January 08, 2018
Hurricanes don't discriminate, but the government certainly did! When storms ripped through Texas and Florida last fall, churches were some of the hardest hit. Desperate to get back on their feet to help their communities, pastors reached out to FEMA for aid. Like other Americans who lost their businesses and homes, they assumed Washington would help them rebuild. They were wrong.
Despite President Donald Trump's very public campaign to protect religious liberty, FEMA dragged its feet. Long enough, it turns out, for the houses of worship to sue. With the help of the Becket Fund, the congregations took the government to court for the right to enjoy the same disaster relief. President Trump piled on, tweeting "Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others)."
After four months of slogging through the repairs on their own, the plaintiffs got word last week that FEMA's policy had finally caught up with the White House's direction. In a new document, the agency explains, "In light of the Trinity Lutheran decision [at the Supreme Court], 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."
It was a major win -- not just for these five congregations, but for conservatives, who continue to marvel at the president's sincerity on their core issues. Senator James Lankford (R-Okla.), one Congress's major champions of religious liberty, couldn't be happier at FEMA's culture change. "Faith-based nonprofits and houses of worship have always played a critical role in helping Americans in need, especially after a natural disaster," he pointed out. "Just like charities, houses of worship that serve our communities... should not be disqualified from disaster assistance simply because they are religious in nature. I'm pleased that FEMA is taking this important step to include houses of worship into its list of eligible entities for aid."
From the White House Christmas card to agency policy, Donald Trump is bringing religious liberty back. And for millions of Americans, who were tired of being driven out of the public square for their beliefs, that's the most important relief of all.
Tony Perkins' Washington Update is written with the aid of FRC senior writers.