Becket, a Religious Right legal advocacy group, filed suit in federal court this week against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) over its longstanding restriction on distributing disaster relief funds to houses of worship. Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance, issued the following statement in response:
“Hurricane Harvey devastated Houston and severely impacted much of the Gulf Coast last week, and Hurricane Irma is fast closing in on Florida. As Texas starts to rebuild and Florida braces for the worst, the Religious Right hopes to use these disasters to chip away at church-state separation.
“FEMA, like the rest of the federal government, is prevented by the First Amendment from steering taxpayer funds to houses of worship. While there is an understandable temptation to provide public funds to houses of worship in the aftermath of a natural disaster, it’s a temptation we must resist.
“The underpinning of religious liberty in America is the separation of church and state. Steering public funds to houses of worship clearly violates constitutional boundaries between the two and would open the door to government interference in the affairs of houses of worship. An exception for FEMA, whether driven by genuine compassion or the Religious Right’s desire to mix church and state, would undercut religious liberty.
“Government, charities, houses of worship and millions of individual Americans will come together to help communities recover from Harvey and Irma. We strongly urge individual citizens to contribute to houses of worship in their recovery efforts. However, it’s unwise and completely unnecessary to violate the Constitution in the process. FEMA and other federal agencies must maintain the constitutionally mandated restrictions that ensure the continued independence of houses of worship.”
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.