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Wednesday February 7, 2001

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Mormon Church neutral on federal faith-based funding

By The Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY - The Mormon church stands neutral on federal funding of religion-based charities, regardless of what church President Gordon B. Hinckley told talk-show host Larry King, a spokesman said.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints moved Monday to clarify the church's stand after a USA Today column by King quoted Hinckley as opposing the initiative.

King's column recounted a private one-hour interview he and his wife, Shawn, a Mormon, had with the 90-year-old church leader on Jan. 30. King wrote that Hinckley said he was "in favor of complete separation of church and state, and while we appreciate the offer of federal funding, we like to do ours on our own. Once the government is involved, regulations follow."

King concluded that the 11 million-member church opposed President Bush's faith-based initiative.

Church spokesman Dale Bills said the church is neutral on the issue, regardless of whatever Hinckley told King. Bills was quoted in a copyright story in The Salt Lake Tribune.

King is standing by his story.

"If you don't take the money, you are opposed to faith-based initiatives," King said in a phone interview from New York. "I don't know what neutral means in this context. He never used that word to me."

King said Hinckley showed him a news release stating the church would not accept any funding if the initiative were to pass Congress.

"I said, 'Thanks but no thanks,' and he agreed," said King, who called Hinckley a "dear friend of the family" who is being booked for a spring appearance on his show.

The Mormon church has been involved in welfare and humanitarian projects for more than 60 years and "government funding has never been a factor," Bills said.

The church's welfare service spends millions annually on church welfare, payments for mortgages and rent, utility bills, medical and dental assistance, food, clothing, school tuition, counseling and other services.