When an area is hit by disaster, churches are among the first to respond, often opening their doors to those in their communities in need of relief.
But when it comes to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) relief to help the churches themselves recover from the hit, the fact that they are places of worship apparently makes them ineligible.
However, three Houston churches are doing something about it, according to LawNewz. Hi-Way Tabernacle, the Rockport First Assembly of God, and the Harvest Family Church are all filing suit against FEMA over their distribution of funds for disaster relief in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
And they’ve got some powerful support from none other than the President of the United States:
From the suit:
FEMA policy explicitly denies equal access to FEMA disaster relief grants for houses of worship solely because of their religious status. If FEMA applies its policy to Hurricane Harvey, as it did to Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Katrina, hundreds of churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship will be denied equal access to FEMA relief. For houses of worship, FEMA’s policy is “simple: No churches need apply.”
LawNewz opines: “The quoted phrase above is taken from Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer, a recent Supreme Court decision which held that otherwise available public benefits cannot be withheld from religious entities simply due to their status as religious entities–and that attempts to withhold such benefits are a violation of the Free Exercise Clause. This Supreme Court decision is the basis for the churches’ legal argument.”
According to the suit, a “categorical ban” exists in FEMA’s Policy Guide preventing the agency from allowing churches access to disaster relief money under their Public Assistance Program. Hi-Way Tabernacle, in particular, “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” and would otherwise qualify for funds if they weren’t a church.
Sound fair to you?
It doesn’t to the president either.
Op-ed views and opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of BizPac Review.
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