FEMA Will Give Disaster Relief to Churches, New Policy Guide States

"FEMA is getting rid of second-class status for churches."

Damage to the First Baptist Church of Rockport after Hurricane Harvey hit Rockport, Texas on August 26, 2017.

By Liberty McArtor Published on January 3, 2018

Churches affected by recent hurricanes are eligible for federal aid, FEMA announced Tuesday. The announcement appeared in the foreword of FEMA’s new policy guide.

“Private nonprofit houses of worship will not be singled out for disfavored treatment,” the first sentence states.

Becket, a religious liberty law firm, celebrated the news in a press release. Becket represents three Texas churches and two Florida synagogues damaged by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. The houses of worship sued FEMA over its old policy. It denied disaster relief to religious organizations. 

“By finally following the Constitution, FEMA is getting rid of second-class status for churches,” Becket attorney Daniel Bloomberg said

Explaining the policy change, FEMA cited the 2017 Supreme Court Trinity Lutheran case. Last June, the court ruled that governments could not discriminate against religious institutions that qualify for public aid. The decision was viewed as a major victory for religious freedom. 

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According to Becket, the Texas churches and Florida synagogues were denied aid for three months. They then asked Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito to intervene. He asked FEMA to respond to the lawsuits. 

As Christianity Today reported, President Donald Trump expressed support for the houses of worship. In September he tweeted, “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA relief funds.”  

The lawsuits are still pending. The Texas churches’ lawsuit is at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit and the Supreme Court. The Florida synagogues’ is at a federal district court. But FEMA’s policy guide update is a step in the right direction.

“We’re delighted that FEMA will start treating us like other charitable groups,” said Pastor Charles Stoker. Stoker leads Hi-Way Tabernacle. Hi-Way Tabernacle is one of the Texas churches that sued FEMA. “And we look forward to continuing to help our neighbors as they recover from Harvey.”

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