Harvest Family Church v. FEMA (U.S.C.A. 5th Circuit and U.S.D.C., Southern District of Texas, 2017)

Separation of Church & State
Separation of Church & State

Plaintiffs, three houses of worship, challenged a Federal Emergency Management Agency rule, which prohibits houses of worship from obtaining emergency disaster grants. The houses of worship sought such grants for the purpose of reconstructing or repairing buildings primarily used for religious worship damaged by hurricanes. They claim that the rule violates the Free Exercise Clause to the First Amendment. While certainly mindful of the damage suffered by these houses of worship, the amicus brief joined by ADL articulated that these harms cannot be a justification to harm critical protections provided by the Establishment Clause to all Americans. It assures that no citizen can be compelled to fund religious worship or beliefs to which they do not subscribe, and that houses of worship do not become dependent on state assistance. Based on this principle, no federal court has upheld government grants for the construction or repair buildings used for religious purposes. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court repeatedly has rejected arguments that the Free Exercise Clause requires the government to fund religious activity on equal terms with secular activity. The Court’s recent Trinity Lutheran decision in no way overrules these decisions. In that case, the Court ruled that religious institutions can be granted equal eligibility for public funding only in very narrow circumstances: funding that would not support religious uses, but would only aid secular, safety-related expenditures.