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Public Statements

Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GOODLATTE. I thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania, the chairman of the subcommittee, for his hard work on this legislation and the gentleman from New Jersey (Mr. Smith) for introducing it and leading this bipartisan effort to address what I think is a serious problem.

I rise today in support of the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013.

Churches, synagogues, and also houses of worship are essential to the fabric of communities throughout this great Nation. In times of need, it seems that faith and the charitable acts that faith inspire are essential to rebuilding and healing our communities. When disasters occur, like Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, it's often houses of worship whose faith calls them to spring into action to help their fellow man, to feed the hungry and house the homeless. Faith inspires hope that communities can become whole again.

Every Member of Congress has seen the good works and deeds that houses of worship and nonprofit organizations do in our communities. There is no reason that the Federal Government should treat churches, synagogues, and houses of worship differently than other nonprofits in times of disaster.

I want to note that the so-called "pervasively sectarian doctrine,'' which absolutely prohibited any aid to pervasively sectarian organizations such as churches, is no longer supported by Supreme Court precedent. While that doctrine was a central part of Supreme Court jurisprudence during the 1970s when the Supreme Court handed down decisions cited by opponents of this bill, including Tilton v. Richardson in 1971, Hunt v. McNair in 1973, and Committee for Public Education v. Nyquist, also 1973, it is no longer controlling, as the pervasively sectarian doctrine was subsequently rejected by a majority of the Supreme Court in the 1999 case of Mitchell v. Helms. Indeed, as the Congressional Research Service concluded in its December 27, 2000, report to Congress:

In its most recent decisions, the Supreme Court appears to have abandoned the presumption that some religious institutions are so pervasively sectarian that they are constitutionally ineligible to participate in direct public aid programs. It also seems clear that the question of whether a recipient institution is pervasively sectarian is no longer a constitutionally determinative factor.

Today's legislation is important because it will ensure that houses of worship are treated equitably to other private nonprofit facilities, and that they are eligible for Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster relief and emergency assistance. I am glad that we are acting today to clarify that FEMA should treat churches, synagogues, and all houses of worship the same as other nonprofit organizations that are working to rebuild affected communities.

I thank Congressman Smith for introducing this legislation, and I urge all Members to join with me to support this important clarification of existing law.

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