Washington, D.C. – Interfaith Alliance President Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy today voiced his concern about any attempts to change FEMA policies to enable emergency grants to houses of worship and urged the agency to maintain its current rules against the practice.
Hurricane Sandy’s tragic devastation continues for millions of Americans. Its impact reminds us of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath, communities devastated by tornados, forest fires, flooding and other natural disasters. In times such as these, there is an understandable, compassion-based temptation to steer federal funds to houses of worship that have been damaged, but it is a temptation we must resist. An act of compassion must not be allowed to erode our historic Constitution; a small act of well-meaning can set in motion a violation of religious liberty that ultimately hurts a house of worship more than helps it. The independence of houses of worship from government regulations is more important than a few federal dollars with which to do reconstruction. To be sure, FEMA does not currently allow this practice, and I urge them to maintain that stance against pressure they are receiving to change.
Interfaith Alliance has long been critical of efforts to funnel tax dollars to religious institutions whether through the faith-based initiative, or in emergency situations like this, because of reverence and respect for these important institutions in our society. To steer such money to religious institutions clearly violates the boundaries between religion and government, and opens the door to government intrusion into the affairs of the house of worship. Making an exception in this case will only result in damaging a principle that has ensured the ability of diverse faith and belief to flourish in this country.
Government can do so much to help communities recover from these tragedies. And so much has been learned from the mistakes made in the wake of Katrina. But to violate a principle inherent in the foundation of our religious freedom would be a disservice to all Americans, including those whose places of worship have been impacted by natural disasters.
Interfaith Alliance celebrates religious freedom by championing individual rights, promoting policies that protect both religion and democracy, and uniting diverse voices to challenge extremism. Founded in 1994, Interfaith Alliance brings together members from 75 faith traditions as well as those without a faith tradition to protect faith and freedom. For more information visit www.interfaithalliance.org.