President Bush said yesterday he will tap religious institutions for more charitable work, confronting critics who say using public money for such programs could violate the wall between church and state. “Compassion is the work of a nation, not just a government,” he said.

Bush established a White House office that would distribute billions of dollars to religious groups and charities over the next 10 years. The president said such groups grapple daily with “deep needs and real suffering” in communities, and deserve a chance to compete for taxpayer money for after-school programs, prison ministries and drug treatment, among other things.

“Government will never be replaced by charities and community groups,” Bush said. “Yet when we see social needs in America, my administration will look first to faith-based programs. … We will not discriminate against them.”

The president signed two executive orders, one to establish a White House office of religion-based community initiatives, and the other instructing five Cabinet-level agencies to create entities to work with religious groups. Bush said he issued the second order to clear barriers “that make private groups hesitant to work with government.”

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