Many churches and faith-based groups experienced property damage in the natural disasters of 2017. Nearly all American evangelical leaders (97 percent) think faith-based groups should be eligible to apply for assistance on the same basis as secular groups when public funds are made available to help rebuild properties damaged by natural disasters, according to the November Evangelical Leaders Survey.
“Studies have shown the vast economic benefits that churches and other faith-based groups bring to their communities — through food banks, recovery programs, English language classes, childcare and more,” said Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). “The government should help churches and other groups that are positively impacting the communities around them rebuild as quickly as possible. It will rebuild the entire communities more quickly.”
On June 26, 2017, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Trinity Lutheran Church v. Comer that a government program of aid must be available to all without regard to religious character. In the fall, three churches impacted by Hurricane Harvey sued the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for disqualifying churches from applying for certain relief available to secular groups.
“Faith should be neither a qualifier nor a disqualifier for assistance, just as unbelief should be neither a qualifier or disqualifier,” said Scott Arbeiter, president of World Relief, the NAE’s humanitarian arm.
Steve Lawson, executive director of the Advent Christian General Conference denomination, explained that after some of their churches helped those in their communities affected by natural disaster, they struggled to rebuild and recoup their own losses. “Financial assistance from the government to help rebuild would be most welcome,” he said.
Anderson added, “Churches are rightly cautious about strings that may accompany public funds. But the First Amendment offers robust protection to Americans of all faiths and none. It prohibits the government from favoring one religion over another, or from favoring secular groups over religious groups. Natural disasters do not discriminate on the basis of faith, and neither should the government.”
The Evangelical Leaders Survey is a monthly poll of the Board of Directors of the National Association of Evangelicals. They include the CEOs of denominations and representatives of a broad array of evangelical organizations including missions, universities, publishers and churches.