Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented flooding and destruction to Texas. Three churches have sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) seeking the ability to be awarded disaster relief grants available to other non-profit entities. In Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, three Texas churches damaged by Harvey are taking on a FEMA policy that does not allow them to receive FEMA money simply because they are religious houses of worship.
Many Texans used religious houses of worship as shelters and centers for aid after Hurricane Harvey and I would assume the same for Hurricane Irma and Maria. FEMA often uses houses of worship to set up relief centers for those displaced by catastrophic storms.
While private nonprofit organizations qualify for FEMA’s relief programs to help make repairs and begin rebuilding, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship are denied access to grant money. The suit alleges that FEMA’s policy violates the Constitution and religious organizations should be allowed to participate in programs on equal footing with non-religious organizations.
The case asks the court to declare that the FEMA church exclusion policy violates the 1st Amendment of the United States Constitution and to issue both a preliminary and permanent injunction prohibiting FEMA from enforcing the church exclusion.