White House

On the heels of a lawsuit filed by three Texas churches over a “discriminatory” Federal Emergency Management Agency practice that forbids churches from participating in hurricane recovery programs, three more churches have written directly to President Trump’s administration asking him to intervene.

WND reported just days ago when three churches that were in Hurricane Harvey’s path of death and destruction in Texas sued over FEMA’s rule that bans churches from taking part in the programs because of their faith.

Becket brought the claim on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God churches.

“After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater,” commented Diana Verm, who works at Becket.

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Time is of the essence, explains the complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, because they have a deadline for applications of 30 days after the presidents disaster declaration.

Now the nonprofit legal group First Liberty has written directly to the White House on behalf of its clients, Trinity Church, Church on the Rock Katy and Grace Community Church.

‘”This is a discriminatory policy started in the past and continued through the Obama administration,” said Chelsey Youman, counsel for First Liberty. “The same religious institutions that are tirelessly serving their communities in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma are being told by the federal government they don’t deserve the nation’s help.”

The letter, dated Wednesday, came after President Trump voiced support for the churches, tweeting that “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”

“When disaster strikes, that’s when people turn to religion the most,” said First Liberty client Pastor Jorge Cardenas of Church on the Rock in Katy, Texas. “The floodwaters didn’t stop at our church’s door and, just like the rest of Houston, it’s going to cost us thousands of dollars to rebuild. We need all the help we can get.”

First Liberty is asking the Trump administration to remove the discriminatory directive and tell FEMA to extend disaster relief aid to religious nonprofits.

After all, the organization explained, the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act “mandates that the president protect religious institutions from discrimination in granting disaster relief assistance.”

“Yet, FEMA maintains a memo originating before President Trump took office, stating that any building using more than half of its space for religious programming should be ineligible for FEMA relief. Congress and members of the U.S. Senate have introduced legislation that may provide additional protections for houses of worship within the Stafford Act, but, given the short timeframe to apply for and receive FEMA assistance following a national disaster any legislative initiative may be too late.”

The letter explains: “With the stroke of a pen, the Trump administration can make this [equal treatment] a reality, providing much-needed disaster relief to hundreds of religious organizations – who themselves continue to provide relief to tens of thousands of affected citizens throughout Texas and Florida.”

The churches ask that the “unconstitutional religious ban” be rescinded.

FEMA already has provided help to “non-critical” services such as “museums, zoos, community centers, libraries, homeless shelters, senior citizen centers, rehabilitation facilities, shelter workshops and facilities which provide health and safety services of a governmental nature.”

The churches point out that the U.S. Supreme Court “very recently held that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment protects religious organizations against unequal treatment.”

The churches note, “Ironically, although FEMA partners with churches to provide shelters and distribute aid to disaster areas, the PA Policy Guide prohibits those same churches from applying for or receiving such relief.”

Many Texas churches were used as shelters, sometimes until water started inundating their own buildings. They continued to provide help to families even then.

“First Liberty Institute proposes a simple and expedient solution. … President Trump should direct FEMA to revise and modify its religious ban and bring the policy into compliance.”

The three churches represented by Becket are asking the federal court “to order FEMA to treat them on equal terms with other non-profit organizations in accepting, evaluating, and acting on their disaster relief applications.”

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