Christians Claim FEMA Discrimination
I came across an article by Paul de Vries in the Christian Post. Before proceeding, it would only be honest if I point out how loathsome I find de Vries. For those of you who do not recall he wrote a passionate piece in the aftermath of the Newtown shooting that blamed the entire event on the secularization of society—in short, he doubled down on Mike Huckabee’s nonsensical statement. I wrote a post on that topic at the time with you can read here.
As a member of the Board of the National Association of Evangelicals, de Vries is not interested in promoting anything resembling the truth. Rather, his goal is the preservation of Christianity—at all costs. Today, we shall once again see his dishonest nature.
de Vries is upset that in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, FEMA is withholding federal relief aid from Churches. He is correct in pointing out that this is occurring. FEMA is not providing federal money to rebuild churches or any other house of worship. de Vries acknowledges that it is not just Christian churches that are the being excluded.
He goes on to write another very passionate piece about all of the good things that many churches do and did in the aftermath of Sandy type natural disasters. He describes how, in times like this, churches (Pastors and members) are often among the first responders. They provide shelter, food, and other sorts of relief that are desperately needed. In this he is correct. It is one of the good things that many churches do. de Vries then lists four reasons why the exclusion of churches from FEMA aid is an “injustice”.
de Vries writes”
“FEMA’s policy is ugly because it treats churches as outsiders individuals, families, retail stores, family businesses, manufacturing companies, government agencies, schools, clubs, restaurants, charities – everyone but churches!”
This is where we see the fundamental mistake that he makes throughout his piece. de Vries never mentions that churches do not pay taxes. He never mentions that churches contribute exactly zero dollars to the pool of money from which FEMA is funded. He fails to notice that, “individuals, families, retail stores, family businesses, manufacturing companies, government agencies, schools, clubs, restaurants, (and some) charities” all pay into the system! Each of those groups is entitled to federal money in times like this because they pay for the privilege! FEMA is not a charity. Receiving federal money is not a right. It is, in a way, something like insurance. We all pay in, and when disaster strikes, receive some aid back. Churches do not do this and therefore should NOT receive one cent of the money that the rest of us worked hard to contribute!
de Vries’ second point is pure rhetoric. He writes that this exclusion creates a “slippery slope” for excluding Churches from other things such as “fire department aid, police protection, and other long-established government services”. There are two things to note here. First, he actually uses the term “slippery slope”. He is assuming that his reader is unaware that such arguments are, by their nature, logically fallacious. This is not an argument at all, it is just rhetoric. However, let’s pretend that it is a legitimate point. First, he does not describe what “long-established government services” are, so we can ignore that part. Second, fire department and police aid are emergent services. We call the fire and police departments in times of imminent danger. People’s lives may be at stake. Rebuilding from a disaster does not fit this description. No one’s life is in danger if a church is not rebuilt. We see two major logical fallacies in this one point alone: a) slippery slope arguments are fallacious by nature and are not arguments and b) his comparison to police and fire department aid is a red herring argument at best.
By the time he gets around to his third argument, it is clear that de Vries really does not have a solid argument at all, and is just trying to play on the emotions of his reader. His third point is really just a reiteration of his opening statement. He writes that by not providing aid to Churches, FEMA (and the federal government) do not value all the “immensely positive roles the churches have already played after Superstorm Sandy”. Again, this is not even an argument, nor is it true. One can certainly acknowledge the good work that many Churches did post-Sandy—President Obama was falling all over himself doing just that in his speech in Newtown. de Vries feels that this exclusion is in effect stating that we do not care if the Churches are up and running prior to the next disaster.
This is an absurd argument. The only way that de Vries could possibly be seen to be correct is if the only way that we expressed appreciation for “good deeds” was with financial rewards. No one is denying that many churches played (and play) a positive role post Sandy (and other storms). This does not entitle them to federal money raised through taxation that they do not participate in. In fact, and correct me if I am wrong, providing aid in times like this is often a huge part of the mission of many churches. They were just doing what they were supposed to be doing, according to their own words! Truthfully, it is hard to argue against this point of de Vries, because his point isn’t really an argument at all. It is just emotional rhetoric that is easily dismissed.
His fourth point is not much better than his last two. de Vries writes, “blocking FEMA grants to churches is to pretend to be ignorant of the continuing soul care needed by the many and various victims of Superstorm Sandy.” There is no plainer way to say this: Our government is not in the business of “soul care”. That is the business of religions not governments (at least in this country). Second, de Vries posits the existence of a “soul” as if it were a real thing. This is not the time or place for that argument, but prior to any federal money being doled out to “soul care” that conversation must happen.
Once again we find that this point is not really an argument at all. Once again, we find it to be nothing more than religious rhetoric designed to pull on the heartstrings of his reader. This will not do.
In truth, de Vries does not make even one valid point. His failure to even discuss the tax exemptions of churches makes his article nothing more than religious rhetoric.
The problem that I have with articles like this is the sense of religious privilege. So many religious leaders, like de Vries, feel that their religions are entitled to a privileged place in society simply because they are religions. Why in the world should a group (in this case a church) be entitled to federal money—money that we all contribute towards except for them, simply because they are religious? What gives them that right? No matter how hard we look for answers to that question, we continuously will find only one. There is no reason that they should be receiving FEMA money. It is for this reason, that de Vries cannot levy one serious argument in his entire article. The notion of Christian privilege must end in this country. Christianity and its various organizations have every right to exist. However, it is time that they play on the same field as the rest of us.
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