Just weeks after Hurricane Harvey battered the Gulf Coast – and in the looming shadow of Hurricane Irma – several churches damaged by Harvey are suing FEMA for not allowing federal funding to religious institutions applying in need of financial assistance.
Becket, a religious liberty law firm, filed suit on September 5 on behalf of three small Texas churches that are seeking federal funding to rebuild.
Since the 1990s, FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, has barred religious institutions from receiving federal relief – despite the fact that religious organizations have been lauded for being among the most effective workers on the front lines of providing assistance to victims.
According to Becket, “If a zoo can apply for FEMA funds, so too should churches, synagogues, and mosques.”
The three churches, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly were all subjected to significant damage from hurricane flooding and in the weeks following the floods have been involved in community efforts to support hurricane victims-including serving some 8,000 emergency meals.
According to documents filed in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas, the FEMA policy “violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment under Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer.”
In June 2017, the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 ruling in the Trinity Lutheran case, said religious institutions have the same rights as secular institutions to participate in public programs.
Diana Verm, counsel at Becket, protested what she described as the selective nature of FEMA’s policy.
Read more at Crux.