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 is a network of people of diverse faiths and beliefs from across the country working together to build a resilient democracy and fulfill America’s promise of religious freedom and civil rights not just for some, but for all. We mobilize powerful coalitions to challenge Christian nationalism and religious extremism, while fostering a better understanding of the healthy boundaries between religion and government. We advocate at all levels of government for an equitable and just America where the freedoms of belief and religious practice are protected, and where all persons are treated with dignity and have the opportunity to thrive. For more information visit interfaithalliance.org.