Let me get this straight. Church members give to the church to provide aid to hurricane victims.
The federal government then gives the money back to the churches?
By Alan Cooperman and Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, September 27, 2005; Page A01
After weeks of prodding by Republican lawmakers and the American Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said yesterday that it will use taxpayer money to reimburse churches and other religious organizations that have opened their doors to provide shelter, food and supplies to survivors of hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
FEMA officials said it would mark the first time that the government has made large-scale payments to religious groups for helping to cope with a domestic natural disaster.
Norma Rush, left, gets help finding clothing from Megan Dempsey, a volunteer from an Alabama church who aided victims in Mississippi.
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Civil liberties groups called the decision a violation of the traditional boundary between church and state, accusing FEMA of trying to restore its battered reputation by playing to religious conservatives.
"What really frosts me about all this is, here is an administration that didn't do its job and now is trying to dig itself out by making right-wing groups happy," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.
For churches, synagogues and mosques that have taken in hurricane survivors, FEMA's decision presents a quandary. Some said they were eager to get the money and had begun tallying their costs, from electric bills to worn carpets. Other said they probably would not apply for the funds, fearing donations will dry up if the public comes to believe they were receiving government handouts.
"Volunteer labor is just that: volunteer," said the Rev. Robert E. Reccord, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's North American Mission Board. "We would never ask the government to pay for it."
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, religious charities rushed in to provide emergency services, often acting more quickly and efficiently than the government. Relief workers in the stricken states estimate that 500,000 people have taken refuge in facilities run by religious groups.