President Donald Trump said Friday that Texas churches devastated by Hurricane Harvey should be entitled to disaster relief assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Association.
The president took to Twitter:
Three churches sued FEMA in federal district court in Houston on Monday for aid that is regularly provided to nonprofit groups but not religious groups, Bloomberg News reports.
The religious organizations are Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle and Rockport First Assembly of God. They are represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.
The churches are located in Cypress, Cleveland and Rockport, all Harvey's direct path, WND.com reports.
Hi-Way Tabernacle was used as a relief shelter for storm victims but cannot apply for FEMA aid to repair damage caused by three feet of flood waters.
"The churches are not seeking special treatment," Diana Verm, a Becket lawyer, said in court papers filed Monday, according to the reports. "They are seeking a fair shake.
"Hurricane Harvey didn't cherry-pick its victims," she told Bloomberg in a statement on Tuesday. "FEMA shouldn't cherry-pick who it helps."
Harvey dumped many inches of rain over several days in Texas, causing at least 60 deaths, widespread flooding and billions of dollars in damage.
According to the lawsuit, FEMA routinely uses and thanks houses of worship for providing shelter, meals, supplies and comfort to neighbors and communities during disasters.
A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in a separate case involving Trinity Lutheran Church in Missouri earlier this year said the federal government cannot discriminate against a church, synagogue or mosque "simply because of its status as a place of religious teaching and worship."
The Texas churches are seeking a court order immediately blocking the FEMA rule because the application deadline is Sept. 26, according to the reports.
A Justice Department spokeswoman told Bloomberg that the government was "aware of the complaint and will examine the claims."
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