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September 12, 2017

FEMA’s Banned Aid Ripped by Trump

When Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas, most people never dreamed it was the beginning of a bigger storm over religious freedom.

When Hurricane Harvey ripped through Texas, most people never dreamed it was the beginning of a bigger storm over religious freedom. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what happened when three Houston churches applied for FEMA funding — only to be denied for being “too religious.” Thanks to a 20-year-old policy guidance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, any institution that spends more than half of its space on “religious programming” isn’t eligible for aid. That’s ridiculous, argues the churches’ attorneys at the Becket Fund, especially since two of these congregations sheltered victims and distributed more than 8,000 meals to the community. “The churches are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking equal treatment. And they need to know now whether they have any hope of counting on FEMA or whether they will continue to be excluded entirely from these FEMA programs.”

That hope came Friday in the form of a tweet from President Donald Trump. “Churches in Texas should be entitled to reimbursement from FEMA Relief Funds for helping victims of Hurricane Harvey (just like others),” he insisted. It was the latest sign that this White House is committed to cleaning up the mess — not just from the hurricane, but from Obama’s two terms of religious hostility. Trump’s position ought to go a long way to righting this 1998 wrong, especially now that Congress is piling on. In a letter to FEMA Administrator Brock Long, Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) calls out the injustice.

This policy discriminates against people of faith. It sends the message that communities of worship aren’t welcome to participate fully in public life… It reduces the facilities and volunteers time, talent, and effort available to support the broader community. And it is inconsistent with the Supreme Court’s recent 7-2 ruling in Trinity Lutheran… In other words, it is unconstitutional. It is unreasonable. And it is impeding ongoing recovery efforts.

“When disasters strike,” he pointed out, “it’s our churches, synagogues, mosques, and other religious organizations that spring into action, offering crucial facilities, manpower, and numerous other forms of support to affected communities.” And, as USA Today explains, that isn’t one conservative’s opinion. It’s a fact. “Faith groups provide the bulk of disaster recovery, in coordination with FEMA,” reads the headline. Crediting the churches’ “unique expertise” in disaster relief, it explains what “integral partners” these institutions have been in helping the hurting, applauding the sophistication of these groups — especially Samaritan’s Purse — in getting volunteers, food, clothes, and money quickly to the victims who need it. By USA Today’s count, at least 75 percent of the volunteer army is faith-based — making FEMA’s policy all the more outrageous. I can personally attest to how churches are increasingly on the front lines of relief in these natural disasters.

Why would the government turn away humanitarian assistance from one of the biggest pools of support? Could it be that Big Government doesn’t like competition? In Louisiana, we saw something very similar with Hurricane Katrina. Instead of partnering with local churches, FEMA kept faith-based groups at arm’s length, leaving a less effective and more expensive government to fill the void. Yet churches kept on, reacting spontaneously to the needs they saw around them.

That’s because, to Christians, this isn’t about what they’re “getting” from government. As Houston’s Pastor Charles Storker said, “The Hi-Way Tabernacle is here to help people. If our own government can help us do that, that’d be great. And if not, we’re going to keep doing it. But I think that it’s wrong that our government treats us unfairly just because we’re Christians.” Now, with the American Red Cross under fire for mismanaging money (“They are the most inept unorganized organization I’ve ever experienced,” said one Houston councilmen), it seems even more urgent that the government fund proven outreach partners.

Not surprisingly, the militant secularists at the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State don’t see it that way. “We know a lot of people in Texas are suffering,” Barry Lynn’s office told reporters, “and we are sympathetic. But the fact that something bad has happened does not justify a second wrong. Taxpayers should not be forced to protect religious institutions that they don’t subscribe to.” In the year of rebuilding from Baton Rouge’s flood, I haven’t seen anyone under the banner of atheism offering to help. Instead, atheists like to snipe at the groups that are actually on the ground with chainsaws and food pantries like Franklin Graham and others.

It all proves author Arthur Brooks’s point: “Religious people are far more charitable than nonreligious people. In years of research, I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people.” (A point Baylor researchers emphasized in their study about faith-based organizations and the homeless.) In his book, Who Really Cares? he details how religious people are more charitable “in every measurable nonreligious way — including secular donations, informal giving, and even acts of kindness and honesty — than secularists.” And that charity isn’t just good for the victims — it’s good for America.

“Money giving and prosperity exist in positive feedback to each other,” Brooks explains, “a virtuous cycle, you might say. For example, in 2000, controlling education, age, race, and all the other outside explanations for giving and income increases, a dollar donated to charity was associated with $4.35 in extra income. Of this extra income, $3.75 was due to the dollar given to charity. At the same time, each extra dollar in income stimulated 14 cents in new giving. All told, this is evidence that charity has an excellent return on investment, far better than the return from the vast majority of stocks and bonds.”

That generosity has a multiplying effect. So, before liberals or atheists complain about helping faith-based groups do their job, let’s remember that there’s plenty of incentive to help them — and absolutely no constitutional grounds not to.

Originally published here.

A Gillibrand New Day for Troop Bill

Defense Secretary James Mattis has until February to implement the president’s transgender order. But at least two senators are trying to stop him before he starts. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), with help from Susan Collins (R-ME), are hatching a plan to overrule the commander in chief’s policy barring the gender-confused from serving in the military.

To the relief of his service chiefs, who’d lobbied against Barack Obama’s policy since last July, Trump tweeted, “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Despite those costs — up to $3.7 billion in treatments and lost deployment time — a handful of radical senators insist on “protecting the transgender troops” at the expense of national security. Based on our conversations on the Hill, Gillibrand and Collins will almost certainly introduce an amendment to strike the Trump policy on the National Defense Authorization Act. With hundreds of amendments already on the table, it’s anyone’s guess whether the senators’ language would make the final cut. If it does, the pair would need to find 60 votes in favor.

That may be a tall order in a nation where only 23 percent of America believes, as the Left does, that the military should be a petri dish for social experimentation. Most of them seem to understand what so many in the media do not: that the president is simply reinforcing the GOP values he pledged to uphold at the Republican National Convention last July. If people are surprised by Trump’s agenda, then they weren’t paying attention.

As improbable as the Gillibrand-Collins effort may seem, conservatives can’t afford to sleepwalk through this debate. It’s time to put America on notice that Senate liberals are intent on stopping President Trump from ending Obama’s era of social experimentation — just as they did with the Obamacare repeal. Contact your senators and encourage them to keep the military focused on what matters: fighting and winning wars.

Originally published here.

A Case of Intolerance for Court Picks

Conservatives can complain about a lot of things in Washington, but President Trump’s judicial nominees aren’t one of them. And it’s not just the quantity of the White House’s judges — it’s the quality. The president is blowing past his predecessors’ pace for nominations, but the good news for Americans is that he’s picking men and women with proven, originalist track records. Just last week, Trump sent another slate of 16 to the Senate for consideration, filling the chamber’s already full plate.

Part of the problem keeping up with Trump is Senate Democrats, who insist on blocking anyone with a scrap of judicial integrity. Minnesota’s Al Franken (D-MN), the same man who tried to disqualify Amy Barrett for her faith last week, refuses — like many Democrats — to return his “blue slip” for other nominees, signaling that they have their home state senator’s support. And while it’s common courtesy to wait for those blue slips before proceeding, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s (R-KY) patience is wearing thin.

When they aren’t obstructing, liberals are name-calling — like we’re seeing this week with the nomination of two attorneys from First Liberty Institute. Already, the Left is out in full force, blasting Jeff Mateer and Matthew Kacsmaryk as “associates of [a] hate group,” a nod to the discredited Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), whose labeling Franken tried to legitimize in a judiciary hearing last week. Obviously, he and others are trying to drag Trump’s nominees through the SPLC’s mud despite the fact that even the mainstream media are questioning the group’s shady methods.

First Liberty is one of the premiere religious liberty legal groups in America. If Jeff and Matthew’s defense of natural marriage disqualifies them for public service, then what does that say about Barack Obama? He held the same position when he was elected president. Now, suddenly, anyone who believes in the institution isn’t eligible for government work? Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) certainly thinks so. And we don’t have to guess where Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Franken stand after their assault on Amy Barrett. “I think in your case, professor, when you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you. And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for, for years in this country.”

As far as Senate liberals are concerned, anyone who believes in the Bible or world history need not apply. And they’re the ones complaining about dogma? Their intolerance is rooted in it! That’s the arrogance of the Left. Anyone who doesn’t share its far-left credo is unfit for work of any kind. This has to stop — and you can help. Sign our petition to the U.S. Senate pushing back on this dangerous religious test for Trump’s nominees!

Originally published here.

This is a publication of the Family Research Council. Mr. Perkins is president of FRC.

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