Churches and houses of worship will now be able to apply for federal natural disaster assistance.
The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency announced this week that it would allow churches to apply for assistance.
The change comes after three churches and two synagogues filed lawsuits after suffering damage from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June in favor of a Missouri church that sued the state over funding for playground resurfacing.
"In light of the Trinity Lutheran decision, FEMA has considered its guidance on private nonprofit facility eligibility and determined that it will revise its interpretation of the aforementioned statutory and regulatory authorities so as not to exclude houses of worship from eligibility for FEMA aid on the basis of the religious character or primarily religious use of the facility," the document reads.
Religious freedom supporters and leaders say they are happy with the change.
"Just like charities, houses of worship that serve our communities and are impacted by natural disasters like Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, should not be disqualified from disaster assistance simply because they are religious in nature,” said Republican Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma. "I'm pleased that FEMA is taking this important step to include houses of worship into its list of eligible entities for aid.”
Three churches in Texas sued after Hurricane Harvey struck the southeast coast of the state. Then in December, two synagogues damaged by Hurricane Irma filed suits in Florida.
"We need to get back on our feet, and we're unable to [without FEMA's help],” said Pastor Charles Stoker, of Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland, Texas.
The three church suits are currently in the appeal stage. The cases for the synagogues are pending in federal district court.
"We will watch carefully to make sure that FEMA's new policy is implemented to provide equal treatment for churches and synagogues alongside other charities,” said Becket lawyer Daniel Blomberg, who is representing Hi-Way Tabernacle.
Photo courtesy: Religion News Service
Publication date: January 3, 2018