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?
Every weekday for decades, Fred Rogers walked into his familiar TV living room, hung up his sport coat, zipped up his cardigan, sat down and put on his sneakers. With a sincere smile, Mister Rogers invited his “neighbors” into his world and made each one feel important.
Whatever were his political beliefs, it never mattered because it was irrelevant. It still is.
He treated each person with respect and truly seemed to know that each one was made in the image of God. He had a graceful way of responding to tough times and tough ideas. He responded to wrong and right. He valued people, life and relationships.
He comes to mind this week because of the myriad overwhelming images that have come out of the recent hurricanes, earthquakes and fires.
In an interview, Mister Rogers shared that when he was a boy and there was a catastrophe in a movie or on the news, his mother would always tell him to look for the helpers. “If you look for the helpers,” he explained, “you’ll know that there’s hope.”
What do the helpers look like during Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma or the fires blazing in the west?
They are people putting themselves at risk saving others from flood, wind and flame. Helpers are firefighters battling exhaustion. They are neighbors fighting to save livestock, buildings, and generational history.
Helpers do not make “who you voted for or what political party you supported” a prerequisite for assistance. The helper is a Catholic nun with a chain saw removing downed trees. The helper is a Christian business that opened its doors to people fleeing the storm. The helpers are churches that became literal shelters from the storm.
And yet, when three of those churches requested federal disaster assistance from FEMA, they were denied for being “too religious.”
As you know, the culture, education system, courts, politics and what passes as news appear to be lined up in direct opposition to the positive biblical values on which America was founded and Idaho seeks to thrive.
What do the helpers look like when the government, educational institutions, entertainment industry, corporate and media elites, and politicians wreak cultural destruction?
How can the helpers today come together to link arms and help through these cultural fires and floods? How do we help in this “brave new world” in which God is allowing us to reside?
Sometimes, the helpers must take a hard look at what is wrong, and firmly and gracefully confront a wrong and help defend and protect against harm.
That is the heart of Family Policy Alliance of Idaho. We strive to be “the helpers” whose work will be of great benefit to generations of Idaho families. Linking arms with Idahoans across the state we work to reduce chaos, provide resources, and serve Idaho.
Together with you, we can have a state where God is honored, religious freedom flourishes, families thrive, and life is cherished.
Mister Roger’s advice to “look for the helpers” in scary times is for us today. We have the chance to take it to heart and together, put it into action.