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Christian Coalition Seeks To Diversify Group Reaches Out To Minorities, Democrats, While Maintaining Conservative Stance

Fri., Jan. 31, 1997

The Christian Coalition announced a plan to expand its base beyond Republican evangelicals Thursday, but its legislative agenda remained centered on conservative themes.

Executive Director Ralph Reed said the emphasis on diversity would include raising up to $10 million by the end of the century to help black and Latino churches minister to at-risk youths. The coalition has already raised $750,000 for black churches damaged by arson in 1995 and 1996.

“For too long this movement has been … almost exclusively a white, evangelical, Republican movement with its political center of gravity in the suburbs,” Reed said at a news conference.

He outlined a legislative agenda that calls on Congress to provide scholarships for children in 100 of the poorest school districts to attend private schools. Reed estimated the scholarships would cost up to $500 million a year.

The coalition also proposed:

Allowing states to bypass government-run programs and contract with private drug rehabilitation programs, including those that are church-based.

Tax credits for people who give money and at least 10 hours of their time to local charities and to those who start businesses and create jobs in 100 impoverished communities.

Additional funding for states with mandatory counseling programs for parents of young children who want to divorce.

Reed said the coalition continues to support the balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, but hopes federal funds can be found for its proposals.

“We’re going to leave it to the budget and tax-writing committees to find the money,” he said.

A coalition of liberal religious leaders said Reed’s proposals were merely cosmetic changes.

“‘This seems like nothing more than a politically packaged strategy aimed at softening the Christian Coalition’s image, while doing little to address the real issues affecting poor and working families in this country,” said the Rev. Albert Pennybacker, president of the Interfaith Alliance.

Despite the criticism, and the Christian Coalition’s continued opposition to abortion and support for school prayer and a crackdown on Internet pornography, Reed said he believes some Democrats in Congress will favor the group’s plans.

‘We expect to receive support from some liberals and not from some conservatives,” he said.

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