And they don’t even pay taxes: Texas churches want taxpayers to fund the rebuilding of their houses of worship after Hurricane Harvey.
In an attempt to overturn long set legal precedent and the separation of church and state, some churches in Texas are suing FEMA for disaster relief funds to rebuild.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been sued by three Texas churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey, over what they called its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to houses of worship because of their religious status.
In a complaint filed on Monday in federal court in Houston, the churches said they would like to apply for aid but it would be “futile” because FEMA’s public assistance program “categorically” excludes their claims, violating their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.
The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is representing Harvest Family, Rockport First Assembly of God, and Hi-Way Tabernacle, the three Texas churches suing FEMA. In a statement, Diana Verm, counsel at Becket, argued that the churches should receive government aid to help rebuild, noting:
After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater. Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick whom it helps.
Note: There is no cherry-picking going on here, only a simple observance of the law and the U.S. Constitution.
Currently, “FEMA allows nonprofits that serve the public benefit to apply for disaster relief funds, but the agency explicitly excludes facilities primarily used for religious activities,” according to a report from The Washington Times. In other words, churches are not entitled to taxpayer funded disaster relief funds, not now, not ever.
Reuters reports that the Texas churches are hoping that a June 26 decision, Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia Inc v. Comer, will help their case. In that decision the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that taxpayer-funded grants for playgrounds available to nonprofits under a state program could not be denied to a school run by a church.”
However, that decision was about a playground, which the court ruled had a secular purpose.
In her important and powerful dissent in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia v. Comer case, Justice Sonia Sotomayor declared:
If this separation means anything, it means that the government cannot tax its citizens and turn that money over to houses of worship.
Sotomayor is correct. The reason churches are currently excluded from receiving taxpayer supported disaster relief funds is because of the separation of church and state as outlined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which prohibits the state from funding or supporting any church.
Adding insult to injury, the three Texas churches, like all churches, pay no taxes, yet they are asking taxpayers to foot the bill for rebuilding their houses of worship. This is unacceptable.
Bottom line: This lawsuit makes unconstitutional demands and should be rejected as a clear attempt to violate the separation of church and state as outlined in the U.S. Constitution.