Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God are all arguing that they deserve disaster relief, just like other nonprofits, including museums and zoos.
FEMA’s policy blocks churches and other places of worship from receiving aid, due to the separation of church and state.
The policy has been questioned during a number of other natural disasters in the past, such as when Superstorm Sandy ravaged New York back in 2012.
Becket, which filed a lawsuit in Houston federal court against FEMA on behalf of the churches, argued that FEMA’s policy violates the Constitution.
“FEMA has previously praised churches and religious ministries and the valuable shelter and aid they provide to disaster-stricken communities, and regularly uses houses of worship to set up relief centers,” the group said.
“In fact, just as it did after Hurricanes Rita and Ike, FEMA and local government agencies are currently using Hi-Way Tabernacle to shelter dozens of evacuees, distribute meals, and provide medical care. Yet Hi-Way is not eligible for relief for the three-foot flood it suffered in its sanctuary, simply because it primarily uses its building for religious purposes,” it added.
Verm insisted that houses of worship are playing a vital role in helping Texas recover from Harvey, and deserve to receive assistance from FEMA.
“It’s time for FEMA to start helping the helpers, not continue a policy of irrational discrimination against churches,” she said.
During the Sandy-FEMA debate in 2013, some, such as The New York Times’ editorial board, spoke out against proposed amendments to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act aimed at making churches eligible for disaster relief.
“Supreme Court rulings interpreting the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment of religion have long barred the direct use of tax money to build, repair or maintain buildings devoted to religious services or other religious activities,” The New York Times said back then.
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SOURCE: The Christian Post, by Stoyan Zaimov