We’ve learned from too many tragic experiences that Jewish houses of worship, among other holy gathering places in this country, are increasingly targets for violence. Whether the attacks are driven by antisemitism, racism or other deranged thinking of a domestic terrorist with a gun, the threat is real. Our institutions need protection.
Beginning in 2005, the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) began funding for eligible nonprofit organizations at risk of such terrorist attacks. Those government dollars add protection through such basic security enhancements as the installation of security cameras, secure doors, barriers and active-shooter training drills. Although funding for NSGP has increased since then, last year’s $180 million was only able to address less than half of the grant applications received. Congress was reportedly considering raising the amount. Then came Colleyville.
A group of Jewish organizations, including Jewish Federations of North America, the Orthodox Union, Agudath Israel and others called for Congress to double the budget to $360 million. Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer proposed just that.
Congress must act. The hostage taking last month at the Texas synagogue is the most recent act of terror in a tragic litany that includes the mass murder at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018; the mass shooting at a Black church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015; and the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012, and many more. As even this short list reminds, the danger and the threat is not limited to the Jewish community. Enhancing security will save lives. And more lives will be saved the sooner security enhancements are funded and put in place. Quite simply, preventive actions are far more useful than reactive ones.
President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill was set to include a $100 million increase in NSGP funding. Although BBB is now off the table, it remains important for Congress to pursue vital pieces of the program, like increased funding for NSGP. American lives depend on it.
There is also work to be done at the state and local levels. We applaud Montgomery County’s move last week announcing a $700,000 security grant for houses of worship and other vulnerable nonprofits. Under those grants, synagogues, day schools and religious institutions can use the funds to pay for security personnel — a first for the county. This is an important innovation that NSGP should consider.
Credit for this trailblazing move goes to County Executive Mark Elrich and Councilmember Andrew Friedson, who saw the legislation through, and to the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington for working with county leaders for the benefit of the Jewish community and the broader nonprofit sector.
State and local security grants are important, but they can only supplement what needs to be a much more robust federal effort to ensure the safety and security of vulnerable populations. We urge Congress to enact significantly increased funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program.