Texas churches want to be tax-exempt and receive government disaster relief funds at the same time

In the wake of the destruction caused by Hurricane Harvey, three Texas churches are suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over their exclusion from disaster relief funds. As the Friendly’s Atheist’s Hermant Mehta points out, due to church-state separation FEMA doesn’t give money to religious institutions — which the churches view as discrimination.

The conservative law firm representing the churches cited a Supreme Court decision from earlier this summer that ruled taxpayer money could be used for church projects if the objective is secular in nature. The June 2017 ruling said that a taxpayer-funded grant could go towards renovating a Missouri church’s playground.

Mehta writes:

Diana Verm, an attorney with Becket [the law firm representing the churchs], was referring to that case when she said, “Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick who it helps.” But FEMA’s not cherry-picking at all. Not everyone gets to apply for grant money. It’s that simple. The rules were decided in advance. It didn’t seem to matter to these churches until they wanted a piece of the available cash.

To reiterate, 5 of the SCOTUS judges who ruled in favor of the Missouri church made it clear that the funds were approvable only because the playground had a purpose that was secular.

“The churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake,” said Diana Verm, a lawyer for the two churches and one synagogue suing FEMA. “Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick who it helps.”

On their website, Becket, the firm representing the churches, said “FEMA has repeatedly denied disaster assistance funds to countless houses of worship in the wake of disasters like Hurricane Katrina and Superstorm Sandy … At the same time, FEMA gave aid to an octopus research center, a botanical garden, and community centers that provide sewing classes and stamp-collecting clubs.”

But Mehta has seen this “pathetic argument from conservatives” before.

Like when they criticize taxpayer-funded research they don’t understand. They throw certain groups under the bus by saying, “They don’t do anything important! But we do! So give us money!” In those cases, they play dumb as to what’s actually being studied. In this case, they ignore how the research center, botanical garden, and community centers are open to everyone regardless of religious beliefs. They don’t discriminate.

Featured image via Flickr

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