President Bush made his faith-based initiative official today by signing an executive order that directs federal agencies to allow religious charities to compete for social-service grants and contracts. In a Philadelphia ceremony, Bush signed an executive order after legislation on the issue stalled in Congress over questions about separation of church and state. The order ensures that religious groups will be able to hire workers based on their religion and still receive public funds. Bush also plans to direct the Federal Emergency Management Agency to allow religious groups to qualify for disaster relief funds and create faith-based offices at the Agriculture Department and the Agency for International Development – such offices have already been created at five other federal agencies. “Bush is on a crusade to bring about an unprecedented merger of religion and government. We will explore every opportunity to challenge this in the courts,” said Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, an advocacy group that has led the fight against Bush’s faith-based initiative. “Bush is giving his official blessing to publicly funded religious discrimination. He is rolling back all Americans’ civil rights and civil libertiesÉUnder this scheme, taxpayers will be forced to support churches they don’t believe in, and workers will be denied publicly funded jobs because they don’t conform to religious mandates.” Bush signed this order despite criticism from both liberal and conservative organizations and public comments made by John Dilulio, former head of the White House office on faith-based programs, who quit last year because of disagreements with religious fundamentalists, according to CNN. Dilulio told Esquire magazine that “the Bush White House was consumed by politics and treated policy as an afterthought,” according to Knight Ridder. He later apologized for these comments.