Letter to the Forward: FEMA Fairness Is Right Policy

Posted on March 20, 2013 In Blog

The following letter was published in the March 8th edition of The Forward.

To the Editor:

It is unfortunate that the “additional insight that time allows” could not bring The Forward to support what nary a single major Jewish organization opposes and an overwhelming majority of members of the House of Representatives supports (by a bipartisan 354-72 margin) – aid to Hurricane Sandy damaged houses of worship.  (“Taking Another Look at FEMA Aid”, March 8).

Remarkably, the legislation you deride in fact addresses the very argument you assert, in the voice of Professor Sarna, in your editorial.

Under the explicit terms of the House approved legislation, houses of worship “exempt under section 501c of the internal revenue code” will be eligible on the same terms as other private nonprofits for FEMA disaster aid.  Thus, FEMA will not be in a “position to decide just what constitutes a house of worship. A private residence used by Chabad? A storefront chapel established only months before the storm struck last October?”

Furthermore, this legislation will not “require government to make very complicated decisions about what is and is not legitimate religious worship space” – contrary to what FEMA does now when, under its current policy, it will give funds to a shul that operates a soup kitchen for the proportion of the building that provides that and other “secular” services FEMA deems kosher.  If anything, the pending legislation reduces the kind of entanglement of government in religion of which you express concern.

As attested to by Harvard’s Alan Dershowitz , the American Jewish Committee and others not known to be assailants of the Establishment Clause, the legislation is constitutionally sound and, moreover, fundamentally fair – and should thus be passed by the Senate right away.

Nathan J. Diament
Executive Director for Public Policy