FEMA apologizes for T-shirt flap

JACKSON, Miss. (BP)--The Federal Emergency Management Agency has apologized to a Southern Baptist congregation and the Salvation Army after a FEMA photographer asked a couple of volunteers to change their T-shirts for an interview.

Angelia Lott and Pamela Wedgeworth, members of a small rural church in Mississippi, were helping clean up debris from a tornado that left a 149-mile path of destruction through the state in April.

The women were working in partnership with Crossgates Baptist Church in Brandon, Miss., a Southern Baptist congregation, and were wearing T-shirts with the Salvation Army logo on them.

When a FEMA photographer approached them to request an interview, he made clear the logos were unacceptable.

"He said, 'We would like to ask you to change your shirt because we don't want anything faith-based,'" Lott recounted May 18.

Wedgeworth said the photographer hurt her feelings, especially since she was motivated by her faith to help people in need. But she and Lott changed their shirts and proceeded with the interview because they wanted to recruit other volunteers to help in the cause.

First the women changed into Crossgates Baptist T-shirts and were told to change again, WAPT-TV in Jackson reported. Finally they were allowed to wear Southern Belle shirts.

Craig Fugate, a FEMA administrator, released a statement apologizing for the photographer's actions, saying they "in no way reflect FEMA's policies or priorities."

"The photographer in question was absolutely wrong," Fugate said, according to the Associated Press.

"... We are proud of the work that is done by our volunteer and faith-based partners and we are proud to work side by side with them in disaster recovery efforts across the country," Fugate said. "FEMA is not the team, FEMA is only part of the team, and critical members of that team are the voluntary and faith-based organizations we work with every day."

Fugate apologized specifically to Crossgates Baptist and to the Salvation Army. He also called U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper, R.-Miss., who is a member of Crossgates, to assure him that FEMA does not discriminate against religious groups.

"I shared with him that we just didn't want to have a situation where the government would take the position that volunteers from churches had to be something different from what they were, which was faith-based groups coming to help people in need," Harper said, according to AP.


Compiled by Baptist Press staff writer Erin Roach.

Download Story