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Mr. FRANKS of Arizona. Madam Speaker, we often come to this floor to advocate any number of controversial issues--issues that often produce strong disagreement from the given Speaker's opposing party. But I stand here today stating what I'm confident an overwhelming majority of Americans would deem simple common sense: if the government responds to a disaster--like Hurricane Sandy, which caused devastating damage and losses in the tens of billions of dollars--it should strive to help the entire community recover, not pick and choose some to receive help and others to go it alone.
But, stunningly, that's not the way it currently works, Madam Speaker. As it stands, many of the strongest, most necessary pillars in our society--churches and other places of worship--are being excluded from even being considered for the recovery aid provided by FEMA in the wake of Sandy.
Since the policy has come to light, some have attempted to defend it, invoking that all-too-commonly abused notion of the separation of church and state. But, Madam Speaker, even if we accept the most radical definition of this phrase, there would still be no reasonably legal explanation for this inexcusable oversight.
The Supreme Court responded to a similar issue when it decided Everson v. Board of Education. In that decision, the court criticized the ``imposition of taxes to pay ministers' salaries and to build and maintain churches and church property.'' But in the very same decision, the court makes clear the obvious exception to this policy, stating that the state has the duty to maintain neutral relations with places of worship, and that they should be granted access to the same basic government services as the rest of the community--``such general government services as ordinary police and fire protection, connections for sewage disposal, public highways and sidewalks.''
Who can, with any modicum of intellectual honesty, suggest that disaster relief does not fit the definition of a basic government service? The government is not maintaining neutral relations with houses of worship in this sphere. It is actively and specifically excluding them from a basic government service enjoyed by every other member of the community.
Of course, perhaps the cruelest irony of this entire situation is the fact that it is so often the churches who step in to help in the immediate aftermath of such disasters. They are the ones sending their congregations to feed, clothe, and house a desperate community. They are the ones taking up donations en masse to help the most afflicted. And they are the ones selflessly emptying their food closets to sustain, for just a little while longer, families anxiously awaiting government aid--the same government aid for which they will inexplicably not even be considered.
Madam Speaker, this unconstitutional, un-American, unreasonable discrimination against these essential, compassionate members of our society simply must not continue. Churches and other places of worship must be held to the same criteria as other members of the community in these decisions. I urge my colleagues to strongly support H.R. 592.
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