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Florida Synagogues Sue FEMA After Being Denied Hurricane Aid

Two Florida synagogues that were hit by Hurricane Irma are suing the Federal Emergency Management Agency for denying them disaster-relief grants because they are houses of worship.

Chabad of Key West and Chabad of the Space Coast argue that FEMA’s regulation against giving aid to religious institutions violates the First Amendment. FEMA gives repair funds to entities like community centers or zoos, but denies them to houses of worship due to concerns about separation of church and state.

“The synagogues are not seeking special treatment; they are seeking a fair shake,” the suit says. “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.”

Chabad of Key West said in its filing that Hurricane Irma in September left it with roof and interior water damage that requires permanent repairs.

President Trump tweeted in September after Hurricane Harvey hit Texas that FEMA should change its rule, and the federal Office of Management and Budget wrote to Congress last month that the White House “notes its support for legislation that would make houses of worship eligible for disaster relief funding (provided they meet the other relevant criteria for private non-profit facilities).”

A bill allowing FEMA funds to go to houses of worship unanimously passed the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee last week.

Contact Aiden Pink at [email protected] or on Twitter, @aidenpink

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