AUSTIN—In a letter sent to President Trump, Sept. 20, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton called for churches and other religious organizations to receive equal treatment with other nonprofits and to be included in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster funding for victims of Hurricane Harvey.
“Churches have opened their doors to feed, shelter, comfort and rebuild their communities—even hosting FEMA operations in the process—but this policy has made those very same churches ineligible for assistance because their primary use is, by nature, religious,” Governor Abbott and Attorney General Paxton wrote in the letter.
According to a news release from Abbott’s office, FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy guide was revised during the Obama Administration and offers assistance to private non-profit organizations—including zoos, performing arts centers and museums—but excludes facilities established or primarily used for religious activities. Trump has made statements recently indicating he believed churches should be entitled for FEMA funds.
“The policy of denying relief funds for churches discriminates on the grounds of religion and is nothing more than the relic of an administration that preferred rewriting laws to faithfully executing them,” Abbott and Paxton wrote.
“Excluding churches and houses of worship from FEMA disaster relief not only makes for bad policy, as you acknowledge, but also risks the federal government violating the constitutional rights of those who are playing an instrumental role in getting Texans back on their feet after Hurricane Harvey. In light of this, we urge you, Mr. President, to move with alacrity and define ‘private nonprofit facility’ in FEMA’s Policy Guide to include churches and other faith-based organizations.”