I read recently that the Trump Administration is reconsidering the current prohibition on paying for disaster damaged at houses of worship (HOWs). I asked Peter Gudaitis, Executive Director of New York Disaster Interfaith Services and also President of the National Disaster Interfaiths Network for his opinion, knowing he had extensive experience with this issue. What follows is the essence of his reply to me:
I don’t think the President has the authority – a change would require Stafford Act reform. [The Stafford Act is the enabling legislation for FEMA.] Does this administration/congress have the appetite for rebuilding non-Christian facilities?
In many cases, the cost of disaster damage to HOWs would be astronomical – many historic buildings could cost 100s of millions to rebuild. Either way, I think broadly it’s a bad precedent.
I don’t think the federal government should rebuild sanctuaries/worship spaces, period. Religious social services spaces maybe/yes. But only if they provide non-sectarian services – not program spaces that convert, proselytize, conversation therapy, food services requiring bible study first….that’s why this is a slippery slope Like homeowners and businesses , all religious facilities should have appropriate flood and risk insurance. If they were eligible and had no insurance, no assistance. Why is it that banks don’t require flood insurance but do require homeowners insurance?
However, if a religious facility provides pre-approved mass care services or is requested to stand up mass care or recovery operations and those facilities are damaged then they should be reimbursed for direct costs.
Your comments are invited.