3 Churches Are Suing FEMA For Discrimination In Withholding Relief Aid

Joshua Gill | Religion Reporter

Three Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey filed suit against FEMA Monday, which they said discriminates against religious organizations by denying them relief aid.

Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assemblies of God, represented by the Becket Fund, are suing FEMA for denying them relief aid despite the fact that they have served as emergency shelters and, in some cases, as FEMA operations sites, according to Christianity Today.

FEMA policy officially precludes “facilities established or primarily used for political, athletic, religious, recreational, vocational, or academic training, conferences, or similar activities” from being considered for relief aid. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Trinity Lutheran case, however, throws the legality of such a policy into question.

“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 churches’ suit states.

The hurricane flooded Hi-Way Tabernacle and Harvest Family Church and tore the roof off of Rockport First Assembly of God. Despite the damages, many churches, like Hi-Way Tabernacle served as a emergency shelters and FEMA response bases. Tabernacle described in a statement provided to Christianity Today, the extent to which the church has hosted and supplied hurricane evacuees:

As of September 4, the church was sheltering between 60 and 70 people, with more expected. The Tabernacle’s gym has been transformed into a warehouse for the county, storing and distributing food, water, hygiene products, and clothing. Over 8,000 FEMA emergency meals have been distributed from the Tabernacle’s facilities. Relief workers are using the facilities to provide both medical services and haircuts to victims. The Tabernacle has been informed that governmental disaster relief helicopters may be landing on its property as well.

“Churches have been told by FEMA: We will use you, but we will not help you,” Daniel Blomberg, attorney for Becket, told Christianity Today.

“They’re not asking that FEMA give them the money; they just want a place at the table (to apply for relief),” Blomberg added.

The churches could not be reached for comment.

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