Washington, DC — The Secular Coalition for America released a statement today condemning a new policy by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that gives houses of worship broader access to disaster relief funds. The new policy, unveiled in FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide says that the agency will revise its eligibility criteria for federal aid to ensure that houses of worship are not excluded “on the basis of the religious character or primarily religious use of the facility.”
“A government that truly values religious freedom can never be in the business of building churches,” said Larry T. Decker, Executive Director of the Secular Coalition for America. “Houses of worship already have access to funds that reimburse them for their sheltering and feeding operations during natural disasters. This new policy crosses a clear constitutional line by using federal dollars to repair and rebuild facilities primarily used for religious purposes. The principle of religious freedom, protected by the First Amendment, guarantees all Americans the right to decide for themselves what religious institutions, if any, they support with their money. Our hearts go out to all those impacted by natural disasters, but the wall of separation between church and state must endure through the best and worst of times.”
This change in policy comes less than four months after President Trump tweeted that churches should be able to receive federal disaster relief funds. According to FEMA’s Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide, the revised policy comes in response to the Supreme Court’s recent Trinity Lutheran v. Comer decision in which the Court ruled that a Missouri church was eligible to receive a grant to renovate a playground on its property.
“FEMA’s new policy extends far beyond the boundaries clearly stipulated in the Trinity Lutheran case,” said Decker. “While we were deeply troubled by the Court’s decision in that case, their ruling did specify that Trinity Lutheran was eligible to receive a public grant for its playground because it was an ostensibly secular part of the church. FEMA’s new guidelines explicitly disregard this condition. It is, frankly, appalling but unsurprising to see the religious right exploiting natural disasters to justify using FEMA like an ATM.”
Contact: Casey Brescia
Communications Associate and Spokesman
[email protected], (845)-380-6201
The Secular Coalition for America is the nation’s premier advocacy organization representing atheists, humanists, agnostics, and other nontheists. Its mission is to increase the visibility of and respect for nontheistic viewpoints in the United States, and to protect and strengthen the secular character of our government as the best guarantee of freedom for all. The Secular Coalition represents 18 voting member organizations.