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Author Topic: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?  (Read 2757 times)

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Offline MonfangTopic starter

The US House of Representatives passed the Hurricane Sandy Reparations Bill that gave much needed funds to help rebuild the areas effected by the superstorm in both the Private and Public sectors. However, it isn't going to one sector. The Faith Sector. Churches, Synagogues, Mosques, and Temples are all being passed over by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) when they pass out funds. This is due mostly to a law on the books that, based on Separation of Church and State, states that Houses of Worship are not eligible to receive any federal funds. However, that may change.

Quote
Earlier this month, in an effort to rectify the situation, the House of Representatives voted in support (354 to 72) of the Federal Disaster Assistance Nonprofit Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 592). The measure, sponsored by Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), was opposed by 66 Democrats and six Republicans.

The bill, voted upon on Feb. 13, would amend the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Assistance Act to include churches as non-profit institutions that are entitled to FEMA aid when the president declares a natural disaster. The bill is now moving on to the Senate where its future is uncertain.

Supporters claim this removes discriminatory systems that pass over organizations because they practice a faith. However, critics say that it will end up paying for religious content within the structure, rather than the structure itself.

Quote
“Using federal money to build a religious sanctuary of any faith is exactly what the Founding Fathers wanted to prevent,” writes Alfred P. Doblin, editorial editor of The Record.

According to Doblin, FEMA isn’t supportive of the measure, expressing fears that the government will end up footing the bill for baptismal fonts, stained-glass windows and other exclusively religious elements. If these items are damaged in storms, the worry is that churches will ask the government to replace them, creating a potentially-troubling entanglement. He went on to call the bill a “slippery slope” that America “should not ski.”

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, a church-state separatist group, agreed. BJC Staff Counsel Nan Futrell wrote a letter claiming that public funding would endanger the Establishment Clause and create murky scenarios for the separation of church and state.

“Public funding of houses of worship threatens to undermine religious autonomy and impermissibly involve government in the private affairs of religious bodies,” Futrell wrote in her letter. “It is simply not a good idea — however our heartstrings are tugged — to give churches access to the public till.”

The supporters of the bill disagree, citing how much the places of faith have done to support the communities around them.
Quote
Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York, said that she supports giving grants to houses of worship. Pledging to support the bill in the Senate, she noted that churches like St. Francis de Sales Catholic Church in Queens, N.Y., among others, have provided much-needed aid to storm victims. Gillibrand believes that churches should have the same protections that zoos, museums, libraries and other community groups are granted.

And Christine C. Quinn, a Democrat and the speaker of the New York City Council, has joined in Gillibrand’s call for a change to FEMA’s policies. But rather than urging legislative action, she wrote a letter simply asking the agency to consider the massive need churches have in the wake of the storm.

“Recovery from a natural disaster like Hurricane Sandy isn’t a matter of state sponsoring religion,” she wrote. “It’s a matter of helping those in need after one of the worst natural disasters our country has ever seen.”

Source: http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2013/02/23/u-s-govt-refuses-to-help-churches-damaged-and-destroyed-in-natural-disasters-but-should-it/


Just so we are clear, here is the Constitutional Amendment on the 'Separation' of Church and State in full.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

It is my personal opinion that not supporting ALL of the Faith based organizations to help rebuild their places of worship would be synonymous with interfering with their ability to worship freely. To tell these non-profit organizations, regardless of the fact they are related to a faith, that they are to rely on sources that are more than likely going to be dried up to rebuild after all the hard work they did to support the communities around them is not something the Founding Fathers had in mind when they wrote the documents that form the foundation of our law.

Enough money to repair flood damage. Enough money to help them feed and clothe those who can not themselves. Enough money to keep the lights on so the building is warm when those seeking shelter from the cold comes to their door. They aren't asking for a statue to be built that wasn't there before.  Only that what was damaged or destroyed be fixed, just like every other non-profit organization who are not faith based receive.

But do they have a point? Would giving support to ALL faith based organizations be 'Respecting an Establishment of Religion'? Should they be made to rely on the sources that kept them up before the storm? If they made enough money before to build and maintain the structure, should they not have enough coming in to put it all back?
« Last Edit: February 24, 2013, 12:30:31 AM by Monfang »

Offline elone

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #1 on: February 24, 2013, 01:02:52 AM »
It was also stated in the article that FEMA was overruled in other instances, however,

Quote
Not all lawmakers, however, viewed the passage of the bill in a positive light, as they held reservations about the bill’s impact on a possible erosion of the barriers of religion and government. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat, who represents New York’s 10th congressional district said there were “real constitutional problems” with using taxpayer dollars to rebuild structures such as religious sanctuaries and altars that are not used by the general public. He argued that the bill was rushed to a vote a few days after it was filed, without any hearings or consideration by the Judiciary Committee.

Also opposing the bill were the Americans United for Separation of Church and State organization who said that taxpayers should not shoulder the burden involved in paying for reconstruction of houses of worship. The group said public funding of religion violates the Constitution and that a long line of federal court decisions bars government support for buildings used primarily for worship.

“A fundamental rule of American life is that congregants, not the taxpayers, pay for the construction and repair of houses of worship. We must not let a storm sweep away the wall of separation between church and state,” said Reverend Barry W. Lynn, the executive director of Americans United, said in a statement.

The American Civil Liberties Union also opposed the bill. “Religious liberty starts from the precept that religion thrives when both religion and government are safeguarded from the undue influences of the other,” said Dena Sher, legislative counsel for the ACLU. Sher said FEMA has a longstanding policy of limiting grants only to nonprofits with facilities used to provide emergency, essential, and government-like activities. Houses of worship, just like the many other nonprofit facilities, are ineligible to receive these grants, she added.

The other side of the coin.

Quote
Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Washington Director and the Vice-President for Federal Government Affairs of the Agudath Israel of America, an organization also representing Orthodox synagogues in America, said that the vote “brings us closer to greater fairness and equity for religious institutions that have been devastated by natural disasters and suddenly face formidable costs.”

While I feel for religious organizations that had damage, why would they think they should get taxpayer dollars to rebuild their houses of worship? They are exempt from paying taxes and are more than happy about that situation. So in the name of "fairness and equity", as stated by Rabbi Cohen, let them pay taxes and then maybe we could consider government aid. No, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

Yes, religious organizations do work for their communities, but they are also among the wealthiest organizations anywhere, they can help themselves.

Offline MonfangTopic starter

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #2 on: February 24, 2013, 01:07:45 AM »
Thank you, Elone for filling in what I missed. I had believed that it was only houses of worship that were passed over. So you believe that they receive enough funds from outside sources to help them rebuild? I would think that those sources, specifically those who are part of the congregation who donate money to the houses, would have to stop donating to hep them rebuild their own homes and structures. How long before those return?

Offline elone

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #3 on: February 24, 2013, 01:15:21 AM »
I think it was just houses of worship that were being talked about. FEMA policy on rebuilding them was overruled in some other instances of disasters, and bombings, and allowed tax money for rebuilding, at least I think that is what the article said.

Actually in my heart I say rebuild everyone, but that damn constitution keeps getting in the way in my mind.

Offline MonfangTopic starter

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #4 on: February 24, 2013, 01:18:08 AM »
I think it was just houses of worship that were being talked about. FEMA policy on rebuilding them was overruled in some other instances of disasters, and bombings, and allowed tax money for rebuilding, at least I think that is what the article said.

Actually in my heart I say rebuild everyone, but that damn constitution keeps getting in the way in my mind.
Well the Constitution doesn't say we can't help them. Only that we can't support ONE religion.

Offline elone

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #5 on: February 24, 2013, 01:47:17 AM »
Actually the Supreme court has pretty much covered this, the wall between government and religion is absolute. Not only does the government not condone any particular religion, it is pretty much forbidden to cross the lines in any way. That is why we can't have a Christmas tree in a courthouse or the ten commandments there either. So it would seem that helping a religious organization, even if it is all of them would be forbidden.

Of course, we still have In God We Trust on the money, and swear oaths on the bible (see the inauguration) as well as prayer in Congress. So things are not as absolute in all categories.

Offline MonfangTopic starter

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2013, 01:49:41 AM »
Actually the Supreme court has pretty much covered this, the wall between government and religion is absolute. Not only does the government not condone any particular religion, it is pretty much forbidden to cross the lines in any way. That is why we can't have a Christmas tree in a courthouse or the ten commandments there either. So it would seem that helping a religious organization, even if it is all of them would be forbidden.

Of course, we still have In God We Trust on the money, and swear oaths on the bible (see the inauguration) as well as prayer in Congress. So things are not as absolute in all categories.
Those last two are mostly from tradition. The others are from some interpretation of the first amendment and a letter from Jefferson telling a church that the government isn't going to force them to shut down that I don't understand.

Offline elone

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2013, 09:54:11 AM »
Tradition, but still not totally separate on the last two.

As for the Jefferson thing, what is that, I was talking about coins.

From politifact.

The use of "In God We Trust" on coins dates to the Civil War era, though the phrase only became the nation’s official motto in 1956, and began appearing on paper currency (as well as all coins) after that. While the use of the motto on money has been broadly popular -- a 2003 Gallup poll found 90 percent approval among the public -- it has also been the target of occasional lawsuits citing the separation of church and state. The best-known case concerning "In God We Trust" and money was filed by church-state-separation activist Michael Newdow. It was argued in 2007 and rejected in 2010 by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Offline RubySlippers

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2013, 10:09:58 AM »
No, if your not paying property taxes on non-exempt for charity use property I do feel there are proper uses like a homeless shelter a church might run as exemptable while the main property not as well as taxes on income (donations) should be required to then fine. But you should not get money to rebuild that is what insurance is for flood, wind and such to cover damages done.

But I do feel government barring a "damned good reason" has no right to limit or restrict the practice of religion just they should demand proper taxes where they can.

My view as most know is you don't collect the taxes then the STATE as in government overall is promoting the religions message with more money over what they would have if treated like a McDonald's next door both are businesses.

Offline Serephino

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #9 on: February 24, 2013, 10:50:23 AM »
Giving a place of worship money to rebuild after a natural disaster isn't supporting said religion.  It's giving them the help that everybody else is getting.  If all places of faith are getting the same assistance, that is not one faith being favored over another.  The government can't favor or discriminate against religion.  The way I see it, not helping them just because they are faith based is discrimination.

Offline Trieste

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #10 on: February 24, 2013, 10:52:40 AM »
I think it was just houses of worship that were being talked about. FEMA policy on rebuilding them was overruled in some other instances of disasters, and bombings, and allowed tax money for rebuilding, at least I think that is what the article said.

Actually in my heart I say rebuild everyone, but that damn constitution keeps getting in the way in my mind.

The sticking point for me is that there are different kinds of houses of worship - and I'm not talking about denomination.

There are the quiet houses of worship that help their community, that provide counseling and support without getting into the politics of their members. These exist, and I would be very happy to help them.

There are the houses that verge toward political, that discourage equal rights and perpetuate the travesty that is anti-choice - not just the most common anti-choice stance but their morals stick people into situations that they are desperate to crawl out of, and then these houses, these vile things, they profit from said person's misery and desperation.

You could call them a predatory HoW, versus a constructive HoW. The idea of tax money going to a constructive HoW, the first kind, makes me happy. The idea of taxpayer money going toward a predatory HoW makes me want to vomit. However, the idea of withholding money from all HoWs due to the actions of predatory HoWs also makes me feel a little ill.

So I guess I've talked myself into saying that Sandy was indiscriminate in her destruction, and so too should we be indiscriminate in our help.

Offline Haloriel

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #11 on: February 24, 2013, 12:04:58 PM »
In my case - its constitutional.  If HoW's wish to rebuild - they should go to their members for funds to do so.  That is rather part of the point, I've found in any religious system - to keep things a float.

Might be a harsh position - but I speak it from being religious.  I would never expect tax payers to pay for my Torah studies, period.

The fact that we have such separation is a good thing - and I wish it were more so - such as regarding marriage.  But that's a whole different topic, so I will not derail the thread.


* Haloriel tips her hat respectfully. 

Offline Shjade

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #12 on: February 24, 2013, 03:25:31 PM »
"Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?"

Yes.

Specifically, they should receive whatever funds the public chooses to offer them, the same way they are always supposed to get funding.

Offline MonfangTopic starter

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2013, 03:48:26 PM »
"Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?"

Yes.

Specifically, they should receive whatever funds the public chooses to offer them, the same way they are always supposed to get funding.
Public funds are funds that come from the government.

Private funds are what they receive from donations.

Offline Trieste

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2013, 03:56:38 PM »
Public funds are funds that come from the government.

Private funds are what they receive from donations.

Public funds are funds that come from the public. They may be administered by the government but they come from... the public.

Ergo the name.

Offline mia h

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #15 on: February 24, 2013, 04:58:19 PM »
It also depends on how you define rebuilding. Is it just putting the walls and roof up or does it include refurbishing the interior as well?
If instead of it being a place of worship, it was a community centre that was backed by a religious charity would money be available? Places of worship are really just community centres with a highly specialised use.

Offline Kythia

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #16 on: February 24, 2013, 05:00:40 PM »
Out of interest, what do people feel about the historic aspect of some HoW's?  I have no idea what Sandy affected but, hypothetically, say a 200 year old Church was damaged.  What would be the feeling about some government money going to restoration in the interest of conservation, preservation of antiquities, etc etc etc.?

Offline Haloriel

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #17 on: February 24, 2013, 05:19:44 PM »
Out of interest, what do people feel about the historic aspect of some HoW's?  I have no idea what Sandy affected but, hypothetically, say a 200 year old Church was damaged.  What would be the feeling about some government money going to restoration in the interest of conservation, preservation of antiquities, etc etc etc.?

In my personal experience and belief - It would depend on if the building in question was under the administration of a local, protected Historic District and generally thus, not used for religious worship of any kind.  Then yes and only with the previously outlined reasoning - it could be restored.  Otherwise - I still feel that only funds that come from a religious community, or private donations.  That is part of the purpose for a religious community - to draw on community members in a time of great need.  Otherwise, there's little point for them. 

I do not at all agree with taxpayer's money being used to assist, with all due respect of anyone that feels otherwise. <3

Offline MonfangTopic starter

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #18 on: February 24, 2013, 05:45:15 PM »
In my personal experience and belief - It would depend on if the building in question was under the administration of a local, protected Historic District and generally thus, not used for religious worship of any kind.  Then yes and only with the previously outlined reasoning - it could be restored.  Otherwise - I still feel that only funds that come from a religious community, or private donations.  That is part of the purpose for a religious community - to draw on community members in a time of great need.  Otherwise, there's little point for them. 

I do not at all agree with taxpayer's money being used to assist, with all due respect of anyone that feels otherwise. <3


Hmm... When I often think of taxes, I always prefer that taken from an area such as a state should be used to improve that area except for in emergencies as it would not benefit those from whom the taxes are taken from if it went to a completely different area. It was sorta for this reason that the Sandy Bill was split up because money was being sent to Alaska with the original but that's a different topic.

If I were to treat this the same, I would question why money taken unwillingly from people who would never benefit from the rebuilding be used there.

Originally I was in support of the House Bill, but I might rethink my position. There would be lots of funds that will come to the Churches. Still, speaking politically, it wouldn't send a good message to say no to their requests. Any chance for a compromise?

Offline Oniya

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #19 on: February 24, 2013, 06:03:38 PM »
Any chance for a compromise?

What about something like this:  Government-administered funds could be allocated to those repairs necessary to make the building safe for use.  This would include replacement of broken glass with ordinary window-glass, and replacement of supports/floors/roofs.  Ornamental masonry, stained glass, and the like would not be covered, but would have to be repaired/replaced by the donations of the community-of-faith.

(I'm throwing this out there because there's a church right next door to us that has an 'Unsafe for use' sign on the door, has been 'For Sale' since before we moved in, and yet they still keep the parking lot chained up so nobody on the street can use it.  We had to get the city to yell at them to mow the parking lot because there were tufts of weeds over a foot high.)

Offline Rhapsody

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #20 on: February 24, 2013, 06:07:14 PM »
Originally I was in support of the House Bill, but I might rethink my position. There would be lots of funds that will come to the Churches. Still, speaking politically, it wouldn't send a good message to say no to their requests. Any chance for a compromise?

I think it would set a worse precedent for governmentally-distributed money to be handed out in such a fashion. Once a precedent is set, it can (and will be) expanded upon until the original intention is completely buried in a morass of religious groups asking for access to federal funds for whatever strikes their fancy. Perhaps that's an extremely pessimistic outlook, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions, especially when it comes to politics, religion, finance, and any intermingling of the three.

Offline Trieste

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #21 on: February 24, 2013, 06:21:22 PM »
Hmm... When I often think of taxes, I always prefer that taken from an area such as a state should be used to improve that area except for in emergencies as it would not benefit those from whom the taxes are taken from if it went to a completely different area. It was sorta for this reason that the Sandy Bill was split up because money was being sent to Alaska with the original but that's a different topic.

No, apparently you think of taxes as magical dollars that fly out of nowhere, rather than the public's pocket. >.> At least that's how it came across. "Public funds come from the government", indeed.

The problems with taking massive relief out of state budgets for each area affected are many. Here is what I can think of off the top of my head:

1.) Federal agencies like FEMA exist because it is inefficient for each state to see to its own cleanup, and states are kinda bad about talking to one another. Think of it this way: If a giant bunch of snow falls on the driveways of everyone in the neighborhood, and you rent a snow plow to clean up your driveway - are you going to clean the driveways of your neighbors if you're the one paying for the gas? What if someone else came in and said "I'll pay for the gas if you go ahead and do everyone's driveways". Or better yet, if someone actually rented the plow for you, paid the gas, and plowed everyone's driveways, it would then free you and your neighbors up to return to work and get things in the marketplace going again. It's not really all that efficient, comparatively, for each house on the block to rent its own snow plow.

2.) I don't know if you realize this, but states are not permitted to run at a deficit. They must, in theory, balance their budget every single year, unlike the federal government. As far as that goes, only a few states in that region were projected to have a budget surplus for 2012. New York was hit fairly hard, but they have a budget surplus (or were projected to have one). Same with New Jersey, which was also hit hard. Okay, well, assuming they have enough of a budget surplus to cover the repairs, what do you propose to do with places like Maryland and Connecticut, who were also hit hard but have no budget surplus. Do we give federal aid only to those states that have no surplus? What if the other states only have a small surplus and can't afford everything they need? Do they get left to founder or do they get federal help, too? Where is the cutoff?

Rather than wading through all of those questions and red tape, it's much more efficient to say, "The feds are going to give you a check for this much. Use it where it's needed and we'll check in with you periodically to see how it goes".

3.) Those regions are some of the more heavily populated regions in the country, which means that they provide heavy tax revenue. If they can't get back to work, federal tax revenue will fall alongside local tax revenue. Not to mention the fact that NYC, DC, Baltimore, and various other northeastern cities are also nodes of commerce and trade. It makes sense for the whole country to make sure that those nodes are up and running at peak efficiency as close to possible. And that's not even to mention the major communications infrastructure that runs up and down the US east coast - infrastructure that affects the Internet, telephone communications, and many other services that are not only convenient, but considered essential in the modern world of business. So it actually benefits the whole country to make sure the region is running very, very well.

4.) There is no four, because my point should be well and truly made by this point.

Offline Haloriel

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #22 on: February 24, 2013, 06:49:20 PM »
These are all fabulous and interesting points everyone makes.  But - my personal opinion is firmly in the camp of the Constitution - as it stands.  I'll refrain from addressing many of Trieste's points, which are while well stated - as they kind of vere off of the direct question, in my opinion.  Though granted I believe someone else did before that.  Some of which - I cannot rightly reply upon without citing sources and I don't feel like going through quite that much effort this evening.

No religious house of worship should gain from the state, nor honestly, should community centres run by houses of worship.

Sorry its short, but that's all I have to say on the matter.  I don't see any compromise that leads to a dangerous precedent.  I personally don't trust people enough not to, in the end, show favouritism when they should not. 

Political policy only works as well as those that support it, are most importantly steeped in the historical learning of it, those that enact and lastly, enforce it.

Fascinating discussion, everyone!

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Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #23 on: February 26, 2013, 01:13:08 AM »
My thoughts on the matter is this.   If houses of worship want to recieve federal aid in the event of a disaster, they should pay taxes like everyone else has to as well.  I will leave unsaid except in passing, the irony of a house of worship, asking for aid after a storm their deity created and/or had the power to stop but didn't.

As others have said, it sets a dangerous precedent if the federal government starts handing out aid money to religious organizations.  Given the rather elevated distrust of Islam (I would say ourtight bigotry personally) from certain political circles in Washington right now, does anyone really think that a mosque would recieve the same sort of funding as a church or Jewish synagogue would?   I very much doubt it, which means then the government is determining which faith to give taxpayer dollars to.  That sets up a slippery slope that has the potential then of becoming specific denominations of Christianity recieving prefered treatment, such as Protestants over Catholics, or Baptists over Methodists and so forth.

I freely admit that as a rather vocal and outspoken atheist I am biased when it comes to ideas of government and religions being pushed together more than they already are in this country.

Offline Pumpkin Seeds

Re: Should places of worship receive public funds to rebuild after Sandy?
« Reply #24 on: February 26, 2013, 07:12:56 AM »
While I am a big advocate for separation of Church and State, there is a problem here as this does affect the general populace and their ability to recover.  Many places of worship double as storm shelters, food kitchens and temporary housing for an affected populace.  Community centers run by religious organizations are often turned into places for people to find solace, community, help and assistance.  Many times the government will use such centers of the community to rally and relay messages.  A great deal of assistance comes from many of these organizations both within the community and from without.  So denying aide to these institutions also hurts the people because those people are turning toward these organizations for aide at their moment of greatest need.  These places and groups also alleviate the government’s responsibility in terms of manpower and finances. 

Seems a bit odd for the government to benefit from not having to provide food or shelter to some people due to a community place of worship, and then deny that same place of worship needed aide.