President Trump said that Texas churches should receive disaster relief funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency as the state recovers from the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.
Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2017
"Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others)." Trump tweeted Friday night.
Religious organizations do not typically receive federal funding. However, three churches in Texas are suing FEMA for not including them in the disaster relief funding package.
The Harvest Family Church, the Hi-Way Tabernacle and the Rockport First Assembly of God experienced damages from the hurricane. One church lost its steeple, roof, and church van, while the remaining churches experiences flood damages to their facilities, the Texas Tribune reported.
Additionally, Hi-Way Tabernacle is currently functioning as a FEMA staging center and is providing shelter for up to 70 people. They also have shared more than 8,000 emergency meals.
"The churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake," the lawsuit filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for Texas's Southern District read. "And they need to know now whether they have any hope of counting on FEMA or whether they will continue to be excluded entirely from these FEMA programs."
According to the lawsuit, FEMA "categorically excludes houses of worship from equal access to disaster relief grants because of their religious status." As a result, the lawsuit requests the court declare this policy unconstitutional and also seeks an emergency injunction to prevent its implementation.
The lawsuit also states that if all religious activities ended, the buildings would become eligible for the federal relief funding.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb., submitted a letter Friday to FEMA Administrator Brock Long demanding why the churches were not receiving any of the federal relief funding package.
"When disasters strike, it's our churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations that spring into action, offering crucial facilities, manpower, and numerous other forms of support to affected communities," Sasse wrote. "For the victims of a disaster such as Harvey, so many of whom have lost their home or—worse yet—their loved ones, it's these institutions that provide the helping hands to rebuild suddenly shattered lives."
"Obviously, this policy discriminates against people of faith," he added. "It sends the message that communities of worship aren't welcome to participate fully in public life. It incentivizes these groups to focus their resources on the damage their own facilities sustained. It reduces the facilities and volunteer time, talent, and effort available to support the broader community."
FEMA funds were used to help churches rebuild during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, although some questioned whether that was appropriate.
Trump signed a $15.25 billion disaster relief bill on Friday. It includes a three-month extension of both federal government funding and borrowing authority.