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Court Hears Church Group’s Arguments Against FEMA

Oral arguments began Tuesday before a federal judge in Houston

Three Texas churches damaged by Hurricane Harvey are suing FEMA — oral arguments began Tuesday before a federal judge in Houston. The churches said they should be allowed to receive disaster assistance grants.

FEMA will normally provide aid to non-profit organizations, just not churches, a rule that stems from concerns over the separation of church and state. The lawsuit is causing FEMA to rethink that rule, according to the Associated Press

“We think this is a simple case of discrimination,” said Diana Verm, an attorney representing the churches. “We think the policy is clearly discriminatory and so we’re hopeful that the judge will agree and issue relief and will issue it quickly.”

Verm said the churches are pointing to a Supreme Court ruling that allowed federal funds to be used in updating church playgrounds. She said this case is essentially the same issue.

A court order in favor of the churches would not change much about FEMA’s policies, Verm said. “It’s only a couple of pages in their policy guide that excludes churches because they’re religious,” she said.

Verm said an injunction would allow churches to access federal funds, at least while the lawsuit is ongoing.

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