• February 13, 2013
    Guest Post

    by Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office & Tyler Ray, ACLU Washington Legislative Office. This piece is crossposted at the ACLU’s Washington Markup blog.

    The impact Superstorm Sandy had on homes, businesses, nonprofits, and houses of worship across the Northeast was devastating. And still, in the wake of the storm, these institutions reached out to their communities to provide the help they could. At the same time, they began the process of their own rebuilding; for congregations, this meant repairing their sanctuaries and sacred spaces.

    After a disaster, businesses and nonprofits often look to government assistance to help rebuild damaged property. Despite the talk in the past couple of months about how these government assistance programs discriminate against houses of worship, they don't. All nonprofit organizations (including houses of worship) and for-profit businesses can get low-interest, long-term, government-secured loans -- up to $2 million -- for losses not fully covered by insurance. Direct FEMA grants of taxpayer funds, however, are intended to serve a certain purpose—those grants are for nonprofits with facilities used for emergency, essential, and government-like activities to the community at large. Houses of worship, just like the many other nonprofit facilities, aren't then eligible to receive FEMA grants. Today, the House of Representatives approved H.R. 592, the so-called Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, a bill that would upend this well-established policy to explicitly permit FEMA to funnel taxpayer funds to houses of worship.

    FEMA's policy not only ensures that FEMA grants are used to rebuild facilities that provide the most critical services to the entire community, but also reflects an important constitutional principle. Religious liberty is one of our nation's most fundamental values and it starts from the precept that religion and religious institutions thrive when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other.

  • September 3, 2010
    Five years after Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on New Orleans and exposed a shockingly wobbly government response to the disaster, a report from the Institute for Southern Studies says the government is still unprepared to handle a similar disaster.

    The report, "Learning from Katrina: Lessons from Five years of Recovery and Renewal in the Gulf Coast," maintains that "many of the problems exposed in the botched federal response to the storm - from breakdowns in disaster planning to a misguided and mismanaged recovery - have yet to be addressed in Washington," writes Chris Kromm, a co-author of the report, for the Institute's online magazine.

    The study notes that Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which was widely criticized for its action in the Gulf, "is just now releasing its new disaster framework - and it still omits internationally recognized standards for protecting storm victims."

    The full report is available here (pdf).