Becket Outlines FEMA’s Discrimination Against Religious Organizations as Unconstitutional on brink of Congressional Vote

    • Torah scrolls stretched across chairs following superstorm Sandy's destruction of the Temple Israel synagogue in Long Beach

    • Congress set to vote on FEMA aid to religious organizations later today

For Immediate Release: February 13, 2013
Media Contact: Emily Hardman, ehardman@becketfund.org, 202.349.7224

WASHINGTON, DC –  Following more than 200 houses of worship being denied FEMA aid following Superstorm Sandy, Congress plans to vote today on whether FEMA can keep discriminating against houses of worship in disaster relief funding.   In light of this, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty provided Congress with a legal analysis of the proper role of the Establishment Clause in disaster funding.

“The Establishment Clause does not prevent synagogues, mosques, churches, and other disaster relief funds from equal access to disaster relief funds that are available to other affected organizations,” said Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “There’s no constitutional reason why houses of worship, which often are the first to provide timely disaster relief to hard-hit communities, should be categorically banned from receiving relief funds to repair buildings. In fact, continuing the practice of allowing zoos and museums to obtain the funds while shutting out churches expresses precisely the kind of hostility toward religion that the Establishment Clause rejects.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is the leading religious liberty law firm, dedicated to protecting the constitutional rights of all faiths.  The Becket Fund’s legal analysis explains that:

1) neutral funding is consistent with case law;

2) neutral funding is consistent with the federal government’s past and present practices; and

3) neutral funding is consistent with formal advice given by the Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Counsel; and

4) discrimination against churches in the provision of a neutral funding program expressed hostility to religion and does raise Establishment Clause problems

“Fixing the local zoo and the local museum, but categorically refusing to help the local synagogue is blatant discrimination,” added Blomberg.

UPDATED Feb. 13, 2013, 2:46pm:  The House of Representatives passed H.R. 592 with a vote of 354-72, to clarify that houses of worship as “eligible for certain disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other eligible private nonprofit facilities, and for other purposes.”

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest law firm dedicated to protecting the free expression of all religious traditions—from Anglicans to Zoroastrians. For 18 years its attorneys have been recognized as experts in the field of church-state law. The Becket Fund recently won a 9-0 victory in Hosanna-Tabor v. EEOC, which The Wall Street Journal called one of “the most important religious liberty cases in a half century.”

For more information, or to arrange an interview with one of the attorneys, please contact Emily Hardman, Communications Director, at ehardman@becketfund.org or call 202.349.7224.

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Additional Information:

Becket Fund letter in the Congressional Record (February 13, 2013)

Becket Fund Congressional Letter (February 12, 2013)

House Bill 592 (Passed February 13, 2013)

FEMA Comment and Background (February 12, 2013)

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*Photo Credit: Temple of Israel Long Beach. Used by Permission.