Trump Backs Churches Suing FEMA over Harvey Aid
Houses of worship and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, otherwise known as FEMA, are at odds—after Hurricane Harvey. Three Texas churches impacted by Hurricane Harvey sued FEMA in September for deeming them ineligible for disaster relief grants. The agency’s policy excludes sanctuaries that serve as shelters after natural disasters.
Four days after the churches sued FEMA, the President took their side. Donald Trump tweeted: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”
Becket, the religious liberty legal group representing the damaged churches, applauded his remark, saying, “It’s great that the President sees that FEMA’s policy of treating churches worse than every other nonprofit is wrong.”
Conflicts between FEMA and houses of worship aren’t new. In 1995, there was a debate over whether churches could use federal aid to repair damage from the Oklahoma City bombing. (Congress passed a law saying yes, they can.) In 2002, the Justice Department said Seattle churches were eligible for earthquake aid. In 2013, the House voted overwhelmingly to say churches can get FEMA funds for Hurricane Sandy, but the bill ultimately died in the Senate.
Many are at odds over this issue. Some people suggest that churches should offer emergency services out of a sense of charity, and not to be compensated. “Yes, there are church-and-state issues here, but here’s another question: What church would ask for federal money to do the Lord’s work?” wrote John Fea, Messiah College history professor. He went on to say that churches should use their own resources to care for the needy and turn to FEMA only if they run out.
Other argue that there are more than 350,000 congregations in the U.S. contributing economically to their communities and offering architectural and artistic value to their neighbors. The majority offer services for people beyond their congregations, according to Chelsea Langston Bombino, the director of strategic engagement for the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance at the Center for Public Justice.
“To restore a community you have to restore its institutions in which that community lives their lives,” she said. “That would include small business, non-profits, community centers, and houses of worship.”
President Trump donated $1 million toward Harvey relief efforts, with $100,000 going to Samaritan’s Purse, the aid organization run by Franklin Graham, another of the President’s evangelical advisers. Samaritan’s Purse had five centers set up in churches across the Texas coast, and had gathered more than 2,100 volunteers and completed work on more than 200 homes.
Operation Blessing International also received a $25,000 donation from Trump.
The President visited the Houston area on ?, making stops at a shelter and a Pentecostal congregation, First Church of Pearland, where volunteers were gathered.
The three churches suing FEMA are hoping to hear a decision soon.
Churches Are Ineligible for FEMA Funds After Hurricane Disasters. This Should Be changed.
Why FEMA Should Fund Churches Damaged by Disasters
Communities can’t be restored if their houses of worship aren’t.
The Satanic Temple Wants to Force Christian Bakers to Make Cakes Honoring Satan
The Satanic Temple is asking its supporters to find Christian bakers and demand that they make cakes “for Satan.”
Lucien Greaves, co-founder and spokesman for The Satanic Temple, wrote in a Patheos blog recently that Christian business owners are discriminating against gay people when they refuse to serve gay weddings.
In the blog, called “According to Matthew,” Greaves said that sexual orientation is not a protected class under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and that Christian business owners may start winning their cases at the U.S. Supreme Court level.
“For this reason, The Satanic Temple has announced a plan for those who feel alienated or oppressed by the privileged status that religion holds over sexual orientation: Request your homophobic baker make a cake for Satan,” Greaves wrote.
In one of the cases headed to the Supreme Court, Colorado baker Jack Philips is asking the court to overturn a 2014 decision that found him guilty of discriminating against same-sex couple Dave Mullins and Charlie Craig. In 2012, he refused to make a cake for their wedding.
“Tolerance should be a two-way street. Phillips gladly serves anyone who walks into his store, but as is customary practice for many artists, he declines opportunities to design for a variety of events and messages that conflict with his deeply held beliefs,” said ADF Senior Counsel Kristen Waggoner.
Christian woman sues Mississippi restaurant over dress code
A Mississippi restaurant chain, Georgia Blue LLC, is being sued for failing to accommodate a server’s religious requests.
In October 2015, Kaetoya Watkins was hired to work as a waitress by the eatery. It was after she received the job offer that Watkins, a devout Apostolic Pentecostal, learned of Georgia Blue’s dress code requiring servers to wear blue jeans.
After accepting the job offer, “Watkins notified Georgia Blue of her Apostolic Pentecostal religious belief that women should wear only skirts or dresses and requested the reasonable accommodation of wearing a blue skirt,” the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) alleges in a lawsuit filed recently.
After she reached out to the company about her dress code needs, Watkins said she received no response and reported to work in a jean skirt. She was sent home for the violation, the Associated Press reports.
According to the suit, the restaurant, which has several locations around Mississippi, later denied Watkins’ request and told her “the owner” would “not stray away from” the company dress code. Watkins’ job offer was then rescinded.
The alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Right Act of 1964, which requires employers to provide reasonable religious accommodations to employees.
Democrats Use Religious Test on Federal Appeals Court Nominee
Separation of church and state are fundamental to American democracy. The Constitution guarantees that one’s religion ought to have no bearing on one’s rights. However, a recent federal appeals court nominee hearing revealed that putting this principle into practice can be a different story.
The Federalist reports that Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Illinois), in a court hearing for the nomination of Notre Dame Law School professor Amy Coney Barrett, asked her, “Do you consider yourself an orthodox Catholic?”
As The Federalist points out, asking Barrett about her faith, as if that could disqualify her from holding office, goes directly against the Constitution, religious freedom, and the separation of church and state.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-California) continued this line of questioning, “When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” said Feinstein. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”
Study: Attacks on Religious Liberty Have Increased 133 Percent in Last 5 Years
Attacks on religious liberty have jumped by 133 percent in the last five years, according to a new report by the First Liberty Institute.
The First Liberty Institute, a conservative legal group, said in its annual report, “Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America,” that in the last year, there has been a 15 percent increase in attacks on religious liberty.
“In this edition, the total number of documented incidents in this report increased by over 15 percent over the past year and now includes more than 1,400 religious liberty incidents,” the report states. These included cases involving schools, the military, open public places and employment.
In 2011, the group reported that there were 600 cases of attacks on religious liberty.
Included in the cases is a report of Alexia Palma, a Houston woman who was fired from her job as a health clinic worker in 2016. Palma taught was allowed to opt out of teaching a class on birth control because of her Catholic faith, but later she was then told that she must teach the class.
“For a year-and-a-half, I just showed the video, there wasn’t any complaints and the patients received their information. Then, I came under new management. The next thing you know, I was getting called into a meeting where they told me that I needed to put my religious beliefs aside if I wanted to continue being a health educator,” Palma said.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- According to a recent study, the number of religious congregations in the U.S. has increased by almost 50,000 since 1998 with the strongest growth in nondenominational churches. It is estimated the number of congregations in the U.S. increased from 336,000 in 1998 to 384,000 in 2012.
- For more than a decade, sexual abuse of a minor was the number one legal matter involving U.S. congregations. It made up more than 1 in 9of all church lawsuits, according to Church Law & Tax. But last year, the top reason for church litigation became a different problem: property disputes. More churches went to court in 2016 due to their building itself rather than any abuse that occurred inside of it.