WASHINGTON — As religious groups prepare for the expanded role they will soon be able to play in providing social services, the Anti-Defamation League is trying to make sure that one group will not take part.
The ADL recently met with John DiIulio Jr., director of President Bush's White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives — which opened Tuesday — and urged that the Nation of Islam be excluded from the program.
DiIulio "showed great understanding and sensitivity," said Jess Hordes, director of the ADL's government and national affairs office.
Representatives of the faith-based office could not be reached for comment.
Bush's plan to provide government funding to faith-based organizations — to run programs such as homeless shelters or drug abuse programs — is raising questions about how to define "religious groups" eligible for federal money.
Stephen Goldsmith, an adviser to Bush on faith-based initiatives, said earlier this month on CBS' "Face the Nation" that religious groups would be evaluated just like other groups, and grants would be awarded based on their performance.
An organization that preaches hate or violence won't qualify, Goldsmith said.
Asked who determines whether a group preaches hate, Goldsmith admitted, "These are not easy questions."
The ADL has registered several complaints to Bush's faith-based plan, saying that ways must be found to ensure that there is no religious discrimination in hiring and that secular alternatives are available to religious programs.
The ADL's counsel, Michael Lieberman, who attended the meeting with DiIulio, said the government should not be in the business of deciding who is a hate group and who is not, and therefore the phrasing of legislation to implement the initiative will be crucial.
The ADL plans to work with members of Congress to craft legislation establishing safeguards that protect the integrity of religious organizations and ensure that beneficiaries of social services are not subjected to proselytizing.
In a letter to Bush last month, the ADL said one of the safeguards should be "ensuring that extremist, terrorist or hate-mongering groups are not able to receive government money."
Bush ignited a furor last year when he said that the Nation of Islam is based on universal principles, and therefore should be allowed to compete for government funding
He later retracted his statement, saying he confused the Nation of Islam with the larger Muslim faith.
In a letter to the ADL last March, Bush explained his confusion and said he was familiar with Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam's leader, and his "history of hateful and anti-Semitic comments."
"I do not believe that any government funding should go to organizations like the Nation of Islam that spread hatred," Bush said in his letter.
The Nation of Islam could not be reached for comment.
Farrakhan long has been criticized for his inflammatory rhetoric, which includes calling Judaism a "gutter religion" and praising Hitler as a great man. He also has referred to Jewish businessmen in black communities as "bloodsuckers."
The ADL and other Jewish organizations periodically issue reports on racist and anti-Semitic statements from Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam. The ADL has tracked Farrakhan since 1984, when he made anti-Semitic and racist remarks while working on Jesse Jackson's presidential campaign.
The Nation of Islam was on the ADL's radar screen even decades before that because of the group's anti-Semitic views and hate-filled teachings, according to Gail Gans, director of the ADL's Civil Rights Information Center.
Under Farrakhan's leadership, however, the group's membership and bigotry has grown, Gans said.