Should Church's Receive Disaster Relief

MATT MACGILLIVRAY is licensed under CC BY 2.0

FEMA thinking of changing their policy

Three churches in the Houston area have recently filed lawsuits against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The churches are suing FEMA for denying them disaster relief funds following their religious identities.

The churches have received support from Catholic and Jewish congregations have filed legal briefs in support. The three churches are fighting against the unfair discrimination that could gradually lead to financial ruin for religious sanctuaries across storm-stricken areas in the United States.

FEMA is built on certain stipulations governing who can access their services. However, it is now rethinking those policies following a federal lawsuit heard in court on Tuesday, by churches in Houston.

This year’s series of devastating hurricanes have led to extreme damage on churches in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico. Previously, the churches would work together towards making repairs to damaged buildings, but this time around, the damage is too severe.

The religious leaders of these churches are at the forefront of making FEMA’s aid available to sanctuaries. Bruce Frazier of Rockport First Assembly of God Church, which is involved in the lawsuit, says churches being excluded from aid because they are churches is seemingly discriminating.

FEMA gives grants to religiously affiliated schools, nursing homes, and medical clinics provided these entities use or allocate less than half of their space for religious purposes. This 50% rule excludes churches and many other church facilities, and people are speaking out on their discontentment with the policy.

Some religious centers are choosing not to seek the help of FEMA such as First Baptist Rockport Church. Senior Pastor Scott Jones has said he and his church will not seek help from FEMA, but he does not fault others who do. His church, just like Frazier’s, was brought to the ground by Hurricane Harvey.

FEMA refused to comment on the issue, but the United States Justice Department said the policies are in the process of being reviewed. The churches insist the aid they are requesting is to clean up the community and restore all the damaged buildings and institutions so these centers can continue to provide services to people in need.

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