Why FEMA Should Fund Churches Damaged by Disasters

Houses of worship and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, otherwise known as FEMA, are at odds—after Hurricane Harvey. From CT’s report:

Three Texas churches impacted by Hurricane Harvey sued FEMA this week for deeming them ineligible for disaster relief grants. The agency’s policy excludes sanctuaries that serve as shelters after natural disasters.

Conflicts between FEMA and houses of worship aren’t new. In 1995, there was a debate over whether churches could use federal aid to repair damage from the Oklahoma City bombing. (Congress passed a law saying yes, they can.) In 2002, the Justice Department said Seattle churches were eligible for earthquake aid. In 2013, the House voted overwhelmingly to say churches can get FEMA funds for Hurricane Sandy but the bill ultimately died in the Senate.

Part of the reason why there’s been no federal statute solution is that there isn’t always political urgency around the issue, said Chelsea Langston Bombino, the director of strategic engagement for the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance at the Center for Public Justice.

“I would love to see the broader nonprofit community say, ‘We don’t all have to agree on our mission. We live in a diverse society, and we need diverse organizations to meet the needs of that society,’” she said.

There are more than 350,000 congregations in the United States contributing economically to their communities and offering architectural and artistic value to their neighbors, and the majority offer services for people beyond their congregations, Langston Bombino said.

“To restore a community you have to restore its institutions in which that community lives their lives,” she said. “That would include small business, non-profits, community centers, and houses of worship.”

Langston Bombino joined assistant editor Morgan Lee and editorial director Ted Olsen this week to discuss why FEMA’s denial of funds is a religious freedom issue, why a recent Supreme Court case could be important on the court’s ruling, and how we can love our neighbors through politics.

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Why FEMA Should Fund Churches Damaged by Disasters