Texas churches damaged by Harvey sue FEMA

Melinda Skea, Becket Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – In the wake of Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented destruction, flooded churches in Texas have sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency, seeking equal access to disaster relief grants available to other non-profits. In Harvest Family Church v. FEMA, three small Texas churches damaged by Harvey are challenging a FEMA policy that bans them from applying to its relief program simply because they are religious.

While many private nonprofit organizations, such as museums and zoos, qualify for FEMA’s relief programs to help make basic structural repairs and begin rebuilding, churches, synagogues, and other houses of worship are denied access to grants. FEMA’s policy violates the Constitution, as the Supreme Court recently ruled 7-2 in Trinity Lutheran protecting the right of religious organizations to participate in generally available programs on equal footing with secular organizations. Becket has filed a lawsuit in Houston federal court against FEMA on behalf of Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God arguing that these churches have the same right to apply for disaster relief grants as other nonprofit organizations.

“After the costliest and most devastating natural disaster in U.S. history, the government should come to the aid of all, not leave important parts of the community underwater,” said Diana Verm, counsel at Becket, the non-profit religious liberty law firm. “Hurricane Harvey didn’t cherry-pick its victims; FEMA shouldn’t cherry-pick whom it helps.”