Atheist activists are accusing President Donald Trump of a purported “breach of etiquette” that they claim “exhibits a gross misunderstanding of the American Experiment.”
What did President Trump do to warrant such a harsh rebuke, you ask? Well, the president recently defended the rights of hurricane-ravaged churches in Texas — and some secularists are pushing back.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation, an atheist activist group based in Wisconsin, published a detailed response this week to Trump’s defense of churches that are seeking hurricane relief funds from the U.S. government.
As Faithwire previously reported, Trump tweeted the following on Sept. 8: “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).”
Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others).
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 9, 2017
The tweet came just days after three small Texas churches sued the U.S. government over their claim that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is violating the law by refusing to allow religious groups to apply for disaster relief grants in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
As for Trump’s response, the FFRF was anything but pleased, accusing Trump of interjecting “his erroneous legal opinion about an ongoing federal lawsuit over whether churches should be eligible to receive taxpayer funds to rebuild after natural disasters.” The atheist group released a statement on Monday speaking out against both the church-led lawsuit and Trump’s response to it.
“The government can help many individuals and nonprofits rebuild, but not churches. It is a founding principal of our nation that citizens may not be taxed in support of religion and churches,” FFRF co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor said in a statement.
Fellow co-president Dan Barker, who is also Gaylor’s husband, added, “Churches don’t pay taxes. Why should they get access to taxpayer funds?”
As previously reported, the Texas churches in the current lawsuit are pointing back to a recent Supreme Court case to push back against FEMA’s policy of banning federal relief if at least half of a building is used for religious purposes — a policy that was reportedly adhered to after both Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy.
Churches & Mosques don't pay taxes. Why should they get access to taxpayer funds? Religious orgs should not receive FEMA Aid. https://t.co/ykhfub5ExQ
— FFRF (@FFRF) September 11, 2017
Becket, a religious liberty law firm, recently filed a federal lawsuit in Houston, alleging that current FEMA policy violates a recent Supreme Court ruling in the Trinity Lutheran Church of Columbia, Inc. v. Comer case, which centered around a Missouri government program that provides grants for tire-based resurfacing to help make playgrounds safer for kids.
The 7-2 ruling found that Missouri went too far in refusing to allow a Lutheran church to receive state funds for playground resurfacing. Now, Becket and the churches it represents — Harvest Family Church, Hi-Way Tabernacle, and Rockport First Assembly of God — are pointing to that case to argue that the government is wrong not to offer up equal benefits to religious groups.
But the FFRF said that this isn’t a slam dunk win for churches in the FEMA case, with FFRF attorney Andrew Seidel adding: “Here, the money would be used to rebuild churches themselves, not to prevent children from getting scraped knees; direct funding of churches has never been permitted under our Constitution.”
Atheists also argued that it was inappropriate for Trump to insert himself in an active lawsuit. It is unclear what actions, if any, the FFRF will take in response.