The United States Senate has decided to hear a bill that will lift FEMA’s ban on emergency aid to houses of worship during times of catastrophes. The bill is a partisan effort to get funding for these institutions which can be said to contradict the doctrine of separation of church and state.
The bill is sponsored by Republican Senator Roy Blunt of Missouri and Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.
The Senate bill states, “A church, synagogue, mosque, temple or other house of worship, and an otherwise eligible private nonprofit facility operated by a religious organization, shall be eligible for contributions under paragraph (1)(B), without regard to the religious character of the facility or the primary religious use of the facility.”
The bill goes on to read, “…contributions under paragraph (1)(B) shall only be used to cover costs of purchasing or replacing, without limitation, the building structure, building enclosure components, building envelope, vertical and horizontal circulation, physical plant support spaces, electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems (including heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, and fire and life safety systems), and related site improvements.”
The ban which would be lifted on houses of worship by the United States Senate was referred to the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs for further consideration.
“FEMA has long been categorically banning houses of worship from competing for disaster relief funds on the same terms as other similar eligible nonprofits,” said Daniel Blomberg, Legal counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. “Discriminating against religious institutions simply because they are religious offends the Constitution and the bipartisan efforts to correct FEMA’s actions…simply seek to right that wrong.”
The House of Representatives had previously voted to lift the ban early in the beginning of 2013. HR 592, The Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act, was passed in a vote of 354 yea to 72 nay tally. It was sponsored by Republican Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey and Democratic Representative Grace Meng of New York.
Maggie Garret, Legislative director for American United is of the opinion that the bill is “constitutionally problematic.” “It simply makes sense to direct those funds to the non-profits that provide public services. This is not in any way an example of discrimination against religion,” Garret stated. “They understand (opposing religious groups) that church-state separation protects religion from governmental interference and favoritism toward certain faiths,” she said.
Similar proponents of the bill believe that funding could be beneficial in providing much needed support when necessary to help community initiatives. During tough times houses of worship are not well supported without the much needed funds.
Critics have argued that the integrity and individuality celebrated by religious institutions should remain free of government influences. If the ban is successfully lifted on houses of worship by the United States Senate it could possibly jeopardize the freedom of religious institutions. Houses of prayer could be successfully pitted against each other instigating problems. The separation of church and state has been protected for years in the American society. As the twenty-first century begins, what is now down is up.