So apparently this is a thing:
More than 200 houses of worship damaged in Superstorm Sandy have applied for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But given the separation of church and state, it's unclear whether federal funds are available to them.
Low interest loans are, and have previously been, available, but not grants. And why should grants be available?
"'The wind and waves did not discriminate when it came to destroying property,'" Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of the Catholic Diocese of New York, told the WSJ. "'The houses of worship are the very bedrock of the neighborhoods now trying to rebuild. To not offer natural disaster assistance grants to rebuild a house of worship just doesn't make any sense.'"
Not so fast:
"The Supreme Court's drawn a pretty clear line about giving certain kinds of assistance to churches, but not allowing them to be paid to buy brick and mortar to construct or reconstruct their properties," he says. "I still think it's a good law, and I think it ought to be respected, even after the devastation of Sandy."
The argument for not using government money to rebuild houses of worship is, I think, quite sound:
“To rebuild houses of worship is a form of compelled support for religion, which is exactly what the First Amendment is designed to protect against,” Dena Sher, legislative counsel for the ACLU, told the Times. “We understand and identify with the serious difficulties everyone is facing, but we can’t let this misfortune be used as a premise to erode these bedrock principles.”
But, as Howland Owl said of nuclear physics, this situation ain't so new, and it ain't so clear:
The ban on FEMA grants for houses of worship is not total: churches and synagogues may apply for reimbursement for social services they provided, including homeless shelters, preschools or feeding programs. Houses of worship can also qualify for low-interest Small Business Administration loans.Of course, the same Bishop Dolan who wants free government money, wants the freedom to spend his church's money precisely as he pleases, when it comes to hiring employees and providing them with health insurance:
He listed three key areas of concern: the narrow understanding of a religious ministry; compelling church ministries to fund and facilitate services such as contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization that violate Catholic teaching; and disregard of the conscience rights of for-profit business owners. These are the same concerns articulated by the USCCB Administrative Committee in its March 2012 statement, United for Religious Freedom.Which presents more than a bit of a problem with logical consistency. Because if the Bishops cannot in any fashion allow their money to, no matter the number of removes it reaches from their coffers, be used to purchase contraceptives, then why should US taxpayers allow their money to be used to purchase houses of worship?
There is a lot of murky information about what Congress and FEMA have done in the past. The two most popular stories are about the Oklahoma City bombing, where Congress apparently (I haven't found any support for this, nor any reason to deny it), authorized $6 million in aid to churches affected by that blast, and to the 2002 earthquake in Seattle, where, again, religious organizations were given aid by FEMA, that time because the Justice Department said so. The problem, however, is with how one defines a "religious organization."
I use the terms used in the respective articles I linked to, in part because there is a valid distinction between "churches" (which are Christian) and "religious institutions" (which aren't necessarily Christian). There is also a distinction between houses of worship, and eleemosynary institutions supported by religious organizations. It's an important distinction because the prime mover on this issue with regard to Hurricane Sandy relief are Jewish synagogues. And it was Jewish "religious organizations" which were aided in Seattle in 2002, specifically; but more specifically, it was the Seattle Hebrew Academy, "a private nonprofit educational facility for Jewish students." That is, it was not a house of worship. As the New York Times article quoted above notes, these are the kinds of groups who may apply for FEMA grants. Congress can specifically aid houses of worship, and may have done so in Oklahoma City. They haven't done so now, however, and I'm not sure they should. (I do wonder about the howls of protest if any such places were Muslim; or even not Jewish or Christian.)
And if they do, Bp. Dolan needs to shut up about the problem of being forced to provide healthcare coverage he doesn't approve of. Of course, he needs to shut up about that anyway, but his position gets more untenable the more he speaks about church/state relations.