Legal scholar Donald Trump has weighed in on Twitter presumably about a lawsuit in Texas filed by three churches seeking federal hurricane relief funds. In the tweet, Trump sided with the churches and against the interests of his own administration.
“Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” Trump tweeted on Friday night.
He was referring to the Harvest Family Church, the Hi-Way Tabernacle, and the Rockport First Assembly of God, which filed a lawsuit in Texas last Monday against the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
According to the Texas Tribune, the three churches were damaged during Hurricane Harvey, and church leaders believe they should be able to access disaster relief grants. Additionally, the Hi-Way Tabernacle serves as a FEMA staging center, distributing more than 8,000 emergency meals, the Tribune noted.
Buildings are not eligible for FEMA relief if more than half of their space is used for religious programming, the lawsuit notes.
An important precursor to the suit is a recent Supreme Court ruling just three months ago. In that decision, the court ruled that a Missouri church could receive government money to resurface a playground. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said denying the church funds to repave the playground would be “odious to our Constitution,” the Tribune reported.
As Politico noted:
Trump’s call for the churches to be treated “just like others” could be seen as a call for equal treatment of secular non-profits and religiously-based organizations in how FEMA divvies up its disaster relief funds. It is unclear whether President Trump’s call would similarly apply to mosques, synagogues and other religious institutions potentially damaged in Texas during the storm…
Though President Trump did not explicitly reference the churches by name, the public endorsement of the legal actions facing his federal agency could serve as a complicating factor in the case.
Lots of critics of Trump’s tweet pointed out that for churches to start receiving federal emergency relief funds, maybe they should start paying taxes first.