Three Texas churches that sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency when they were banned from participating in federal hurricane recovery programs because of their faith now are getting support from President Trump as well as at least one member of Congress.
WND reported last week that the three churches in the middle of Hurricane Harvey’s path of death and destruction sued because FEMA bans them, on the basis of their faith, from participating in recovery programs.
The action was brought by Becket, a nonprofit religious liberty law firm, on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God churches.
“After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater,” commented Diana Verm, who works at Becket.
“Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick whom it helps.”
The churches now are enjoying the public support of the president.
Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2017
On social media, he advocated for the churches to be allowed to participate in FEMA programs, stating, “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”
And Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., wrote to FEMA administrator Brock Long requesting an explanation for the decision to discriminate.
“This policy discriminates against people of faith,” the senator wrote. “It sends the message that communities of worship aren’t welcome to participate fully in public life. … It reduces the facilities and volunteer time, talent, and effort available to support the broader community. And it is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recent 7-2 ruling in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer. … In other words, it is unjust. It is unconstitutional. It is unreasonable. And it is impeding ongoing recovery efforts.”
The senator told the federal agency “there is no room for discriminatory policies that hinder the tasks of recovery and rebuilding. That is why I am disturbed to learn of FEMA’s refusal to allow religious Americans equal access to disaster aid.”
“When facilities for stamp and coin collecting are eligible for aid,” he said, “but houses of worship aren’t, something has gone seriously wrong.”
On Monday, the Family Research Council issued a statement saying the federal ban on aid to churches in hurricane zones is “ridiculous” and said President Trump is trying to right the wrongs from “Obama’s two terms of religious hostility.”
“Trump’s position ought to go a long way to righting this 1998 wrong, especially now that Congress is piling on,” the group said.
WND reported when the case developed that while FEMA has praised churches and religious ministries and the valuable shelter and aid they provide to disaster-stricken communities, it refuses them permission to participate in recovery and restoration programs.
“To its credit, the federal government has stepped [up] to help the people of Texas, who are already very busy helping one another with the recovery process. One of the leading resources for disaster relief has been houses of worship. Indeed, Plaintiff Hi-Way Tabernacle is currently in use as a shelter for dozens of evacuees, a warehouse for disaster relief supplies, a distribution center for thousands of emergency meals, and a base to provide medical services,” the complaint said.
“FEMA has accordingly rightly recognized that houses of worship have an essential role as places of refuge during the storm, and as nerve centers of recovery afterwards.”
The complaint continues, “Yet FEMA policy explicitly denies equal access to FEMA disaster relief grants for house of worship solely because of their religious status.
“The Constitution does not allow this exclusionary policy to continue. Under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment – particularly as interpreted by the Supreme Court decision in Trinity Lutheran Church – government may not discriminate against a church, or a synagogue, or a mosque simply because of its status as a place of religious teaching and worship.”
The three plaintiffs are asking “this court to order FEMA to treat them on equal terms with other non-profit organizations in accepting, evaluating, and acting on their disaster relief applications.”