Washington D.C., Jul 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) -
Religious leaders have praised senators who introduced a bill this week which would ensure that houses of worship are not discriminated against when federal funds are distributed for disaster relief.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, a part of the Homeland Security department, has come under fire from inter-faith leaders for its policy which helps all non-profts except houses of worship.
“Right now FEMA, which has provided aid to all kinds of nonprofit institutions hit by Sandy, excludes only one kind of institution in a wholesale manner: houses of worship,” said Bishop William F. Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese and Rabbi Hershel Billet, head of Young Israel of Woodmere.
“Sandy and the recent Oklahoma tornadoes assaulted people without discrimination. FEMA needs to respond without discrimination, too,” they wrote in a July 11 opinion piece for Newsday.
Corey Saylor, legislative director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told CNA/EWTN News July 12 that the organization would support the bill “because churches, mosques, and synagogues provide a lot of aid themselves to local communities when they've been through disasters.”
“So having those places functioning can sort of help give the religious community a place to centralize to provide greater aid to the community in which they live.”
Earlier this week, Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Roy Blunt (R-MO) introduced legislation ensuring that houses of worship are eligible for disaster relief and emergency assistance on terms equal to other non-profit facilities.
Non-profits which are already given federal aid include such facilities as museums, libraries, community centers, homeless shelters, and senior centers.
A similar bill introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), called the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013, was passed by the House on Feb. 13 by an overwhelming majority of 354-72.
Smith said July 11 that “when a bill passes the House by such a strong, bipartisan margin … it is hoped that the Senate will work aggressively to send it to the President’s desk. The legislation is desperately needed to put fairness back into our disaster relief programs.”
He commended Senators Gillibrand and Blunt, as well as Jeff Chiesa (R-NJ), for supporting the initiative in the upper legislative body, saying, “I am confident their leadership will help break the log jam and bring equity to the program.”
Smith noted that FEMA “continues to discriminate against houses of worship” even though the Small Business Administration and the Homeland Security department do not.
“It’s time FEMA get up to date and recognize that superstorms are indiscriminant in their damage and faith-based organizations welcome and greatly assist all victims affected by a disaster. For a community to fully recover, the houses of worship that often are the centers of emergency assistance also need to receive recovery assistance.”
Bishop Murphy and Rabbi Billet noted that “when superstorm Sandy ravaged Long Beach, houses of worship opened their doors to aid anyone in need..”
They gave the example of Saint Ignatius Parish, which produced a community center, and Young Israel of Woodmere, which became an aid distribution center.
And in the Brooklyn diocese, St. Camillus and Virgilius parishes, which were themselves struck by Sandy, acted as distribution centers and food program sites after the superstorm left.
“That's why it's ironic that these community institutions that serve others in time of need stand scorned when it comes to the Federal Emergency Management Agency helping them repair and rebuild, the way it helps other private institutions,” wrote the bishop and rabbi.
The two noted that FEMA's exclusion of houses of worship for assistance is based on a “false and narrow-minded conception of the separation of church and state.”
FEMA has been made to assist houses of worship in the past. In 1995, Congress overruled the group's refusal to help churches damaged in the Oklahoma City bombing, and in 2002 the Justice department ordered the agency to aid religious organizations damaged by an earthquake in Seattle.
Hurricane Sandy’s Oct. 29 landfall killed over 110 people in the U.S. and caused more than $50 billion in damage. The storm left millions without power, and crippled transportation.
The megastorm had killed at least 67 in Caribbean nations before hitting New Jersey.
Philadelphia, Pa., Jul 13, 2013 (CNA/EWTN News) - The attorney general of Pennsylvania has said she will not defend a state law defining marriage as a union of a man and a woman in court because she does not agree with it.
Thomas Peters, a spokesman for the National Organization for Marriage, said the action shows that the recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings favoring same-sex unions “set a bad precedent” that will allow elected officials “to not represent the will of the people when they find it expedient.”
Peters told the Washington Post that the attorney general’s move is a “pocket veto” of the law.
Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, said July 11 she believes the 1996 marriage legislation is “wholly unconstitutional.” She said she was obligated not to defend the case “because I endorse equality and anti-discrimination laws.”
State law requires the attorney general to “uphold and defend the constitutionality of all statutes” to prevent a court from suspending or abrogating them. However, Kane announced that she will not do so for the marriage law.
Government officials’ refusal to defend laws supporting marriage between a man and a woman has become a prominent tactic to advance “gay marriage.”
In 2011, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder refused to defend the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as a union of one man and one woman. The House of Representatives then had to fund the defense of the legislation, which passed Congress overwhelmingly in 1996 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The refusal of state officials in California to defend Proposition 8, a victorious 2008 ballot measure that restored the legal definition of marriage to a union between one man and one woman, led to the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to hear the case. This in effect affirmed the ruling of California’s Supreme Court, which had said the amendment was unconstitutional.
A lawsuit challenging the Pennsylvania marriage act has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, representing ten same-sex couples, two minor children, and one person whose same-sex partner died.
The suit cites the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June that struck down parts of the federal Defense of Marriage Act by a vote of 5-4.
The court ruled that the U.S. government may not restrict the definition of marriage to one man and one woman for the purpose of federal recognition and benefits. It leaves the definition of marriage up to the states.
Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, is also named in the Pennsylvania lawsuit. He may instruct his general counsel, James D. Schultz, to defend the law.
The suit also names Pennsylvania’s health secretary, whose agency produces marriage licenses that recognize only the bride and the groom, and two county registers of wills whose offices did not give marriage licenses to same-sex couples.
Amy Hill, communications director with the Pennsylvania Catholic Conference, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that it is too early to say whether the conference or other backers of the Defense of Marriage law will file an amicus brief in the case.
The Pennsylvania Catholic Conference has said it will watch the case “closely.”
“Marriage is a personal relationship with great public significance – not a private affair – that affects all in society. Marriage is not just about adult relationships, it is the foundation of the family. Every child has a mother and a father. And every child has a basic right to a mother and a father united in marriage,” the conference said July 12.
“While circumstances may prevent a child being raised by his or her own mother and father, marriage is the way society provides for children’s needs in ordinary circumstances,” it added.