In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey, President Trump tweeted that “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey.” This week, Senator Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced a bill in the Senate that would turn Trump’s tweet into a reality. The bill, S. 1823, would amend the Stafford Act to allow churches and other houses of worship to receive disaster-relief grants from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
This is not the first time this legislation was introduced. In 2013, following the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy, Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ) introduced H.R. 592, which passed the House by a vote of 354-72. The bill was never considered by the full Senate. Mr. Smith introduced his bill (H.R. 2405) again earlier this year.
The Secular Coalition for America has consistently opposed these bills, including the Senate companion recently introduced by Senators Blunt (R-MO), Cornyn (R-TX), Lankford (R-OK), and Cruz (R-TX), on the grounds that they violate the First Amendment of the Constitution, which expressly prohibits the government from compelling taxpayers to support religious institutions. If these bills were to become law, Americans would see their tax dollars used to build and support houses of worship.
Entrusting FEMA, a federal agency, to fund the reconstruction of houses of worship is a dangerous entanglement of church and state that presents countless opportunities for abuse, favoritism, and prejudice against minority faiths.
Our hearts go out to all who were impacted by the recent hurricanes, including the houses of worship, and we commend the continued efforts of the state, local and federal governments and the nonprofit community to provide survivors with the funding they need to rebuild after these terrible storms. These bills, however well-intentioned, threaten nothing less than the secular foundation of our government.
Please, stand up for true religious freedom by urging your Senators to oppose this bill.