Bush's faith-based program deeply troubles televangelist

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WASHINGTON - Christian conservative Pat Robertson, one of President Bush's backers during the campaign, said he has significant concerns with Bush's plan to let religious groups compete for federal grants.

Robertson said he worries about the government funding religious groups out of the mainstream, such as the Church of Scientology, Hare Krishnas or the Unification Church.

"This thing could be a real Pandora's box," Robertson said on his "700 Club" TV show. "What seems to be such a great initiative can rise up to bite the organizations as well as the federal government."

Robertson said it was ironic he was lining up with liberal groups.

"You know, I hate to find myself on the side of the Anti-Defamation League and others, but this is, this gets to be a real problem," Robertson said, referring to the Jewish group that has expressed concerns about the Bush plan.

Robertson and his son, co-host Gordon Robertson, both said the government would be hard pressed to give grants to some religious groups and not others.

"I don't see how on a constitutional basis can you say, 'Well, this belief is OK, and this belief is not,'" Gordon Robertson said.

Pat Robertson could not be reached for further comment yesterday.

Asked about funding for non-mainstream religious groups when a new White House office of faith-based initiatives was announced, Bush administration officials said that they would be eligible to compete alongside mainline religions.

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a vocal opponent of Bush's plan, took note of Robertson's comments. "This means Bush's plan is in enormous political trouble," said Barry Lynn, head of the group.

Asked about Robertson's comments, White House spokeswoman Claire Buchan said, "We think this program is based on sound principles and that it is the right thing to do, and the president is very committed to it."