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Churches may push mentoring

Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to have religious institutions help find mentors raises constitutional questions.

©Associated Press
January 28, 2003

TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush said Monday he wants churches, mosques and synagogues to help push mentoring.

He said that having ordinary people work one-on-one with kids is one of the best ways to raise student achievement. He also said that combining religious institutions with such volunteer programs is a common-sense way to close an achievement gap between low-income children and others.

Bush has championed mentoring and does it himself, meeting with an eighth-grader once a week at a local middle school.

He announced Monday that the number of one-on-one mentors participating in the initiative has grown 20 percent to more than 135,000.

But his effort to increase that to 200,000 has some worried that it could become a vehicle for religious teaching, partly because a "faith-based initiative" would have an Orlando-based Christian community group help churches find members who want to mentor.

Bush and leaders of the community group, called "Frontline Outreach," say there's no reason to worry. Bush said the initiative is merely a way for "people of faith . . . to be able to make a difference in a secular way to ensure that children can learn."

Arto Woodley, the executive director of Frontline Outreach, said, "Let me be clear: There will be no proselytizing."

Howard Simon, Florida executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that whether the plan is constitutionally suspect depends on how it is done and whether the state pays church groups.

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