Super-storm Sandy Aid to Help Rebuild Nightclubs, not Churches

My FEMA Nightmare: Superstorm Sandy Policy to Help Nightclubs but Not Churches?

ICC Note: In this revealing article Dr. Paul de Vries, president of New York Divinity School, reveals that government aid towards neighborhoods destroyed or damaged by Super-storm Sandy is being used to repair businesses, including nightclubs and adult video stores, but held back from “places of worship” such as churches. The policy, argues Dr. de Vries, is blatantly discriminatory against religious groups thanks to outlandish FEMA rules and a misinterpretation of “separation of church and state.” Dr. de Vries points out that churches were some of the first groups to respond and sacrificed great time and resources to help victims, making it ironic that they are now left out to dry by our nation’s government.   

By Paul de Vries

2/20/2013 United States (CP) -Now I have one repeated nightmare: I am walking down the streets in Superstorm Sandy-ravaged sections of New York City, my town – especially near the shores of Brooklyn, Queens or Staten Island. As I walk, I grieve with immense sadness and anger when I see some churches boarded up because of their tragic superstorm damage. Perhaps some part of a floor is weakened or some electric wiring is damaged. It may be that some steps are broken or a dangerous level of mold has grown. Now failing our building code standards, these church buildings are closed, not to be opened to serve their communities, not to be opened for divine services.

However on the same New York City blocks, down the same busy streets, there are rowdy beer halls, sleazy nightclubs, and smutty “adult” stores, even witchy botánica businesses – all open and thriving again because of generous grants from the tax-payers’ pockets; American money conveniently channeled by the IRS and FEMA for the restoration of thousands of homes and businesses, including godless establishments. Their floors are now repaired, their damaged wiring is replaced, their steps are renovated and their mold is safely removed – and all is paid for through generous government aid. The church buildings suffering the same damage are still “disqualified” from these grants because churches lead people to God. Ironically, it was the God-centered churches who were the first to help others immediately after Superstorm Sandy –with generous physical, emotional and spiritual help many days or weeks before aid from any other sources, government or private. And it is the churches that are qualified to offer the continuing soul-care help still so deeply needed for months and years to come.

That is my repeated nightmare. However, each time I wake up I rediscover that the nightmare is not a dream at all, but the reality here in New York City, as well as on the shores of Long Island and New Jersey. What an awful nightmare, what a twisted reality, what a misguided government.

In our free market society, I do not begrudge “adult” bookstores, bars, sleazy nightclubs or botánica businesses from receiving aid – as long as there is such an aid program and if it were fairly administered. The biggest problem is the malignant exclusion of churches, synagogues, mosques and other house of worship (more generally, “churches”) that makes the whole relief effort so grossly uneven and skewed. Aid is given even for people, businesses and organizations that did not buy federal subsidized flood insurance – with the only exception of complete prohibition of aid to the churches. It is as if our government was especially hostile to churches. It is as if our government – “one nation under God” – sees churches as dispensable, in the way of progress, a waste of good space, the only organizations unworthy to receive the aid dollars – those dollars that still say “In God We Trust.” The present FEMA policy is so absurdly anti-church – it is as if the White House and the Senate thought that the United States would be better off if thousands of churches did not survive in the disaster areas.

As I mentioned recently, if the “problem” with FEMA is that worship occurs in churches, as if they cannot repair houses of worship, “let FEMA be forewarned: vibrant worship often occurs in hundreds of thousands of our New York homes, offices, factories and restaurants, too.”

And it is just as important to know that that a kind of “worship” openly occurs also at those rowdy beer halls, sleazy nightclubs, smutty “adult” stores, and even witchy botánica businesses. They are houses of worship, too – destructive, demeaning worship, but worship, nevertheless. While we do not generally label these businesses establishments as houses of worship, they are often still in direct competition with churches. They are effectual “houses of worship” that millions of New Yorkers packed out after 9/11, seeking “consolation,” groping for “eternity,” at the same time millions of others sought consolation and eternity more effectively in the churches. Tragically, present FEMA policy prefers giving support to these effectual “temples” of the perverted sexual and alcoholic ancient enemies of the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus – and no aid to churches.

That is why my repeated nightmare matters! FEMA aid to pagan “houses of worship” is processed; aid to legitimate churches is illegal. May God help us! May we awaken the Senate and White House to mere FEMA equity.

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