Three TX churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for access to disaster relief money that churches are denied but nonreligious nonprofits are able to get. FEMA “categorically excludes houses of worship from equal access to disaster relief grants because of their religious status,” said the Becket Fund For Religious Liberty who is asking the court to declare FEMA’s church exclusion policy unconstitutional.
FEMA used hundreds of churches as shelters, medical centers and distribution centers after the Hurricane. “But their policy has made those same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Becket counsel wrote. “Excluding churches and houses of worship from FEMA disaster relief … risks the federal government violating the constitutional rights of those who are playing an instrumental role in getting Texas back on their feet.” “This is a time of crisis for Houston,” Becket said. “Churches are some of the helpers. Yet they are denied the same relief other nonprofits are getting from FEMA.”
Museums and Zoos are eligible for relief but churches are not. “If the Churches were to cease all religious activity in their houses of worship, those buildings would become assistance-eligible,” the lawsuit read. “The Churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake.”
In a June, 2017 Supreme Court decision that a church in Missouri could get government money to resurface its playground, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote,
“The exclusion of Trinity Lutheran from a public benefit for which it is otherwise qualified, solely because it is a church, is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.”