An archdiocese and a synagogue have joined in a legal battle to change FEMA policy that some Texas churches have deemed discriminatory.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency has been excluding churches from non-profit relief grants, but in the wake of Hurricane Harvey three small Texas churches are challenging FEMA's policy. The case is known as Harvest Family Church v. FEMA.
"This week we received support in two briefs from an archdiocese and a synagogue that have supported our request to the court to deal with churches equally," says Diana Verm, legal counsel at Becket, the non-profit law firm representing Harvest Family Church (Cypress), Hi-Way Tabernacle (Cleveland), and Rockport First Assembly of God (Rockport).
The Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston and the Congregation Torah Vachesed synagogue submitted the briefs, which highlight ways houses of worship responded in Harvey's aftermath and continue to provide aid to their local communities. The briefs also point out FEMA's unfairness in discriminating against churches while using them as staging grounds for FEMA relief efforts.
"This is discriminatory policy," states Verm. "So we're hopeful for quick solution."
Harvest Family Church v. FEMA argues that, consistent with the Supreme Court's 7-2 Trinity Lutheran ruling, churches have the right to participate equally in generally available programs with other nonprofit organizations.
"Hard-hit houses of worship shouldn't be denied a place at the table just because FEMA thinks they're 'too religious,'" Verm continues. "FEMA should drop its phobia of religion and get back to focusing on helping communities rebuild."
Three other Texas churches – Trinity Church, Church on the Rock Katy, and Grace Community Church – have also filed a lawsuit against FEMA on similar grounds. Those churches are represented by First Liberty Institute.