Bill To Provide Sandy Relief To Houses of Worship Stalled in Senate

A bill that would allow federal disaster relief funds to be extended to houses of worship that suffered damage in the wake of Superstorm Sandy is stalled in the Senate. The bill was passed in bipartisan fashion (354-72) on February 13th by the House in response to FEMA’s decision to deny aid to houses of worship based on a claim that such federal aid violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

H.R. 592, the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Christopher Smith (R-NJ), has remained in the Senate for a month while it was referred to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Daniel Blomberg, Legal Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which provided Congress with a legal analysis of the proper role of the Establishment Clause in disaster funding, told Breitbart News that despite outreach to the Senate by the House’s co-sponsors for urgent action to stop FEMA’s discrimination against houses of worship, the Senate has not responded.

Blomberg said that what is remarkable about this legislation is that even in a politically divided environment, the House treated this disaster relief for houses of worship in a nonpartisan fashion. He believes that the Senate would do as well if the bill were brought to a vote.

The New York Times, however, is having none of this bipartisan support for houses of worship following the massive storm last year. In an editorial on March 4th, the Times asserted that the disaster relief bill should die in the Senate, and accused those who supported it of giving “in to political pressure from some religious groups.”

The Times wrote:

Supreme Court rulings interpreting the First Amendment’s prohibition against establishment of religion have long barred the direct use of tax money to build, repair or maintain buildings devoted to religious services or other religious activities…

It is troubling that two-thirds of the House Democrats went along with the new measure, and that only two Democratic lawmakers, Jerrold Nadler of New York and Bobby Scott of Virginia, vocally challenged the dismantling of the church-state barrier. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, an influential voice on Hurricane Sandy aid, has also endorsed the measure.

Blomberg, however, states that the Times’ argument that the bill crosses the church-state barrier is “flatly incorrect,” and that such a claim has been rejected by the courts.

In the Christian Post, Paul de Vries wrote about walking in New York, past churches boarded up because of storm damage.

He observed:

However on the same New York City blocks, down the same busy streets, there are rowdy beer halls, sleazy nightclubs, and smutty “adult” stores, even witchy botanica businesses- all open and thriving again because of generous grants from the tax-payers’ pockets; American money conveniently channeled by the IRS and FEMA for the restoration of thousands of homes and businesses, including godless establishments.

Blomberg states:

FEMA’s refusal to provide houses of worship equal access to disaster relief funds that are available to similar nonprofits- a position which it has held off and on for each of the last four Administrations- is religious discrimination that should be stopped.

Taking issue with the claim that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution justifies FEMA’s decision to discriminate against houses of worship, Blomberg asserts, “Setting apart religious institutions for special disfavor is not the type of neutrality that the Establishment Clause requires.”


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