Federal grant funding for religious institutions’ security efforts is expected to quadruple by 2021, a group of Maryland Democratic politicians announced Jan. 13 at a press conference in Pikesville.
Joined by local Jewish, Muslim, and Christian religious leaders, U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen and Ben Cardin, with Rep. John Sarbanes, announced their support for a proposal to quadruple funding for the federal Nonprofit Security Grant Program.
Since 2002, NSGP has provided security assistance to religious and community nonprofit institutions deemed at high risk of terrorist attacks. The allowable costs, up to $100,000 apiece, include planning, equipment, training, construction, maintenance, and management fees that may be required to make congregations safer. The Department of Homeland Security funds the program.
The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) had a significant role in the program’s creation, according to Nathan Diament, OU director of public policy.
“More than a decade ago, we at the OU worked with Sen. [Chuck] Schumer and other congressional allies and coalition partners to create the NSGP,” he said. “We did so out of a sense of concern and an abundance of caution.”
Diament said that this is not just about money but about American rights and freedom.
Van Hollen’s office organized the conference. Last year, it pushed for NSGP funds to be doubled up to $90 million and was successful.
Van Hollen shared rising FBI statistics on hate crimes and concluded the issue is nonpartisan. He said he and Cardin are confident this proposal will be approved when the budget is set Oct. 1 and completed within the year.
Until then, Cardin said, the funds are in the appropriation phase.
While most congregations have not yet developed fiscal plans for the potential grant, Van Hollen believes houses of worship should use funding however is best for them individually. Rabbi Shmuel Silber of Suburban Orthodox Toras Chaim Congregation said he would probably use it for hardware alarm systems, cameras, and armed guards. His congregation has already increased the hours of their armed security.
“We noticed a few years ago that Baltimore was not receiving its fair share of (support),” said Howard Libit, Baltimore Jewish Council executive director. Recent support has made a difference, he said.
Van Hollen said he has never seen a political climate like this during his tenure, which is “very disturbing.”
He also said he has experienced an increase in requests from religious institutions for security funding.
Cardin, who said he has been to almost every European country and visited synagogues there, noted that religious institutions are targets everywhere, and Europeans have reacted by making security a norm.
In an interview after the press conference, Cardin shared a personal anecdote about a time he was denied entry to a synagogue in Europe because he had not made formal arrangements.
While community members have previously expressed to the JT that guards can make some congregants uncomfortable, Cardin said he has faith that increased security will make people feel safer.
Retired Col. Rudwan Abu-rumman, president of Anne Arundel County Muslim Council, told the gathering that his mosque is also a beneficiary of NSGP funds and delivered a passionate warning to “some politicians” to stop spreading hate.
“I know our elected officials here cannot shut someone in Washington’s mouth, but we send our prayers,” he said. Abu-rumman also said that prayers are not enough, however, and that this is not the America he immigrated to.
Sachs-Kohen concluded the announcement with “Oseh Shalom,” a prayer for peace.
“We pray that the One who creates peace in the high heavens will bring peace to us here,” she said in translation.