WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said on Tuesday that churches may apply for aid relating to disasters declared after Aug. 23, 2017, following pressure from President Donald Trump and a lawsuit by Texas churches.
The federal disaster relief agency was sued in September by three Texas churches severely damaged in Hurricane Harvey, over what they called its policy of refusing to provide disaster relief to houses of worship because of their religious status.
Trump had said in a tweet that Texas churches should be able to receive money from FEMA for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey. It was not clear whether the three churches provided aid to victims.
The churches that sued are the Rockport First Assembly of God in Rockport, which lost its roof and steeple and suffered other structural damage, and the Harvest Family Church in Cypress and Hi-Way Tabernacle in Cleveland, which were both flooded.
In a complaint filed in federal court in Houston, the churches said they would like to apply for aid but it would be “futile” because FEMA’s public assistance program “categorically” excluded their claims, violating their constitutional right to freely exercise their religion.
They said FEMA’s ban on providing relief where at least half a building’s space is used for religious purposes, a policy also enforced after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Hurricane Sandy in 2012, contradicted a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision making it easier for religious groups to get public aid.
Reporting by Chris Sanders; Editing by Leslie Adler