FEMA Apologizes Over T-Shirt Flap

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A top official for the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has apologized to the Salvation Army after one of its videographers asked volunteers to change their t-shirts for on-camera interviews because they sported the logo of a faith-based organization.

The Associated Press (AP) is reporting that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate issued a statement saying the videographer’s actions “in no way reflect FEMA’s policies or priorities.”

“The photographer in question was absolutely wrong,” Fugate said.

The incident occurred during on-camera interviews being conducted by FEMA in Misissippi after last week’s tornado outbreak. Two volunteers, Angela Lott and Pamela Wedgeworth, told the AP that the videographer asked them to change out of their t-shirts for on-camera interviews because of the Salvation Army logo.

“He said, ‘We would like to ask you to change your shirt because we don’t want anything faith-based,”‘ Lott said Tuesday.

When Lott  asked him why he didn’t want to feature faith groups, “All he said was, ‘We’ve done that hundreds of times,”‘ Lott said.

The photographer’s request “kind of hurt my feelings,” Wedgeworth said. “I think I made the comment, ‘I think that’s the reason we’re all here, is by faith.”‘

Both Lott and Wedgeworth attend a small rural church in Smith County and were volunteering through a ministry of Crossgates Baptist Church in Brandon.

This is the same church attended by Rep. Gregg Harper, (R-Miss.), who was disturbed to hear that volunteers had been asked to hide expressions of their faith. Harper called FEMA and was reassured that the agency 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 told the AP.

Fugate has made it clear that FEMA is “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.”

Harper said Fugate told him the photographer had been fired.

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