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— A church has contacted lawyers to complain that a federal emergency response truck apparently used the church parking lot without permission, then refused to pick up debris at the church left from the January ice storm.

But the Federal Emergency Management Agency says the church is mistaken and the agency did not use Southside Community Church property as a staging area.

FEMA spokesman Win Henderson said federal and state government log records show the church was not a FEMA staging area during the debris clean up from the January ice storm.

Also, Henderson said, the church is a private nonprofit organization and did not qualify for debris pick up. In addition, he said, the church did not submit a request for public assistance.

"If they had and then received a denial letter, then they could appeal the denial," he said.

Church pastor Charles Stoddard said a FEMA supervisor told him the agency would not pick up debris from churches because they are considered a commercial business. Stoddard said he drove around the city and found many churches still had piles of debris even though neighborhoods had already had debris pick ups.

The pastor said he contacted the Alliance Defense Fund, a group of Christian lawyers.

In a letter to FEMA, the Christian group said the agency's rationale "seems to mask the fact that what is really occurring here is religious discrimination."

ADF attorney Erik Stanley said, "We are aware the trucks were not FEMA, but the companies contracted with FEMA to do clean up work."

He said the church parking lot was used as "a partial base of operations" with FEMA supervisors on site.

"FEMA is ultimately responsible," he said.

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