Harvey-hit houses of worship now free to apply for FEMA aid Becket lawsuits result in extended deadline for Harvey-hit churches
Melinda Skea 202-349-7224 firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C. – FEMA is now accepting disaster aid applications from houses of worship damaged by Hurricane Harvey, a result of lawsuits brought by three Texas churches and two Florida synagogues seeking equal access to relief grants. In Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, and Chabad of Key West v. FEMA, Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God and Chabad of Key West and Chabad of the Space Coast, respectively, sued FEMA for denying houses of worship access to federal disaster aid grants on equal footing with secular non-profits (watch their story). FEMA announced houses of worship can now apply for disaster relief aid through February 4.
Last week, FEMA announced a new policy that would put an end to its discrimination against churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship. FEMA’s new application deadline implements that policy by allowing houses of worship to submit applications for disaster relief. Before the litigation, many houses of worship were told they were not eligible for grants and were blocked from applying. Now they will have an opportunity to submit applications for aid even though the original deadline has passed.
“Houses of worship that were earlier subject to discrimination are now being given a second chance,” said Daniel Blomberg, counsel at Becket, the non-profit religious liberty law firm that represents the Texas churches and the Florida synagogues. “FEMA is making good on its promise to treat houses of worship equally.”
Houses of worship were among the first to respond in the aftermath of both Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma and they continue to provide aid to help their communities recover. Yet FEMA’s old policy discriminated against churches, mosques and synagogues, while at the same time using them for its own relief efforts.
FEMA’s new policy aligns with the Supreme Court’s June 2017 decision in Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer requiring religious groups to receive equal access to widely available public programs. The three Texas churches’ case is currently on appeal at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The Florida synagogues’ case is pending in federal district court in Key West.
For more information or to arrange an interview with a Becket attorney, contact Melinda Skea at email@example.com or 202-349-7224. Interviews can be arranged in English, Chinese, French, German, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish.
Becket is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions and has a 100% win-rate before the United States Supreme Court. For over 20 years, it has successfully defended clients of all faiths, including Buddhists, Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Native Americans, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians (read more here).