Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey sue FEMA for discrimination

Three churches in Texas which were severely damaged by Hurricane Harvey have filed a lawsuit against the Federal Emergency Management Agency for blocking federal funding supposed to be used for rebuilding the houses of worship.

(REUTERS / Nick Oxford)An abandoned Hummer is covered in floodwaters on Interstate 610 after Hurricane Harvey inundated the Texas Gulf coast with rain, in Houston, Texas. August 28, 2017.

On Sept. 5, religious liberty law firm Becket filed a discrimination lawsuit against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly. The three small churches sustained significant damage from Hurricane Harvey but have helped serve meals and provide other forms of support to victims of the storm in the last few weeks, Crux noted.

The three Texas churches are now seeking financial assistance from FEMA for rebuilding. However, the agency has prohibited religious institutions from receiving federal assistance since the 1990s even though they were active in relief efforts for victims of such storms.

Documents submitted to the District Court for the Southern District of Texas said FEMA's policy against federal relief for religious institutions "violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment." This statement was based on the ruling on the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc v. Comer in June 2017 that said churches and secular institutions have the right to be part of public programs.

"After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater," said Becket counsel Diana Verm in a statement. "Hurricane Harvey didn't cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn't cherry-pick whom it helps."

Meanwhile, city officials in Texas are now focused on the task of cleaning up the mountains of trash that Hurricane Harvey left. Gov. Greg Abbott told media on Sept. 7 that they want to remove the piles of garbage quickly, CBS News reported.

Officials explained that the heaps of garbage are unsightly and could also become breeding places for molds, snakes, rats, and other creatures. Not only that, they could become projectiles if another hurricane comes along.