FEMA to Church: Ready, Set, Rebuild.

By Brittany Jones, Policy Manager

Imagine a world where the facilities that were the staging ground for relief to others were not rebuilt following a natural disaster. The world you just imagined was actually the world we lived in until recently. Texas Governor Greg Abbott & Texas Attorney General Paxton pled with FEMA to allow churches to receive help rebuilding, and now FEMA agrees with them.

During the Obama administration, private nonprofits that were exclusively religious were not allowed to receive government assistance for disaster relief. Churches are sacred spaces that provide refuge and comfort to thousands effected by tragedies such as natural disasters. Churches were hit just as hard as other nonprofits in the recent storms, yet they were not able to access the same government resources to rebuild because of their religious nature—even though they were leading the way in providing relief to their communities. Check out our video briefing on this topic from last year.

Our friends at Becket, a public interest law firm, have been working tirelessly to ensure that churches are treated equally in many arenas. They filed several lawsuits in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. They argued that the government was discriminating against religion by denying access to generally available resources. FEMA finally saw reason and is now allowing churches to be reimbursed for their rebuilding expenses.

Churches are motivated by their faith to help those around them, especially in times of intense need like we saw this past summer. Receiving these benefits allows the church to continue to run its normal operations while helping those in its community. Across the nation, 80% of disaster relief comes from faith-based organizations. Churches should not be penalized because of their inherent religious nature, but rather should be encouraged to support hurting people.

Thankfully, in this situation, FEMA saw the importance of protecting the freedom of churches to serve those in need and access the same help generally available to the public. However, this is not always the outcome. As legislative sessions begin in state capitols across the nation this month, lawmakers in each state have the power to pass laws to protect the church from being discriminated against by the government or to punish churches and ministries who live out their faith. Will you join Family Policy Alliance and our state-based family policy allies as we continue to fight for good laws that protect religious freedom in every state?