Three Texas churches damaged in Hurricane Harvey sue federal agency over refusal to provide relief for places of worship
Three Texas churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey are suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over what they say is its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to places of worship because of their religious status.
In a complaint filed on Monday in the federal court in Houston, the churches said that while they would like to apply for aid, it would be ‘futile’ because FEMA’s public assistance program ‘categorically’ excludes their claims, violating their constitutional right to exercise their religion freely.
The churches said that FEMA’s ban on providing relief where at least half a building’s space is used for religious purposes – a policy also enforced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012 – contradicts a recent US Supreme Court decision making it easier for religious groups to gain public aid.
That decision which came on 26 June, known as Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc v. Comer, meant that US states must sometimes provide such aid even if their constitutions explicitly ban such funding.
Becket, a nonprofit organization that represents the churches and advocates religious freedoms, said the same principle should apply to federal FEMA relief for Harvey victims.