Churches are now eligible for disaster aid.
Many remember the three Texas churches that sustained structural damage during Hurricane Harvey who later sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for denying them disaster relief grants. The suit was heard in federal court and we finally have a result of sorts: FEMA has changed its policy.
To be clear, the FEMA’s initial refusal to assist had nothing to do with the churches’ lack of need, but everything to do with the religious services being performed within their four walls.
FEMA’s policy guide previously stipulated that institutions like museums, zoos, and other non-profits were eligible to receive grant money in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. Churches and other religious institutions, by virtue of their engagement in “religious activities such as worship, proselytizing, religious instruction, or fundraising activities,” were not.
This week, the federal agency announced that its updated policy will allow religious groups, not just in Texas but nationwide, to receive the disaster relief funding that was previously unavailable to them.
Thank you, FEMA.
The Old Debate
But this question of whether or not FEMA relief money should be given to religious institutions in the wake of a disaster is not new.
After Hurricane Sandy ravaged the shores of the East Coast in 2013, the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association was denied funding to rebuild the beach’s boardwalk. Camp meeting associations were originally birthed out of the Second Great Awakening and several are still scattered in coastal towns across Northeastern shores.
This particular one, located in Monmouth County, New Jersey, is rooted in a Methodist heritage and decidedly dubbed their town “God’s Square Mile at the Jersey ...