Minutes before midnight last night, Hi-Way Tabernacle and two other Texas churches filed an emergency appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit asking for the right to apply for disaster relief like other devastated non-profits. The emergency appeal in Harvest Family Church v. FEMA came hours after a lower federal court refused to stop FEMA's policy that discriminates against houses of worship. FEMA already conceded in court that its discriminatory policy is unlikely to survive the Supreme Court's recent decision in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer.
Yet since the devastation by Hurricane Harvey in late August, FEMA has resolutely refused to give houses of worship equal access to federal disaster aid grants while distributing over $500 million to other kinds of nonprofits and grant recipients like stamp clubs and botanical gardens.
FEMA's delay has left Texas churches in limbo, forcing them to miss expedited grant deadlines and permanently jeopardizing their ability to access FEMA's grant program. Despite this discrimination, houses of worship across Texas—including Hi-Way Tabernacle, as shown in this new video—continue to help their communities recover. The churches are asking the Court of Appeals to grant them immediate emergency protection by Monday, December 11, and to provide more permanent relief by Christmas.
"FEMA is giving Scrooge a run for his money. FEMA already left these devastated churches in the cold for Thanksgiving, and now it's trying to shut them out for Christmas. Enough is enough. A flooded building is a flooded building, whether it's a theater, a church or a synagogue, and they should all be treated equally, every one," Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel at Becket, says.
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