US senators cite rising threats to religious institutions in seeking more money for nonprofits’ security


WASHINGTON (JTA) — A bipartisan slate of U.S. senators wants more funding for nonprofits’ security, citing intelligence reports of a heightened threat against religious institutions.

The letter sent Wednesday to the top Republican and Democratic senators on the Appropriations Committee seeks a raise to $75 million from $60 million.

It cites a February intelligence bulletin issued jointly by a number of federal agencies that “found that domestic extremists; perpetrators of hate crimes; homegrown violent extremists; and foreign terrorist organizations will continue to pose a lethal threat to faith-based communities in the Homeland, particularly against perceived soft targets such as religious and cultural facilities.”

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, who initiated the letter, in a release alluded to the attack over the weekend on a San Diego-area synagogue that killed one worshipper and wounded three.

“As we’ve seen recently, the threats to many houses of worship and other religious community sites are increasing and we must do everything we can to protect religious and cultural based institutions in Ohio and across our country,” he said.

Of the 33 senators signing the letter, 31 are Democrats. Portman was one of two Republicans.

“We applaud a third of the Senate who are calling for increased funding for the nonprofit security grant program,” said William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America, which helped organize the Senate letter and a similar letter in the House of Representatives. “Since September 11th,” he said, referring to the 2001 mass terror attacks, “nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks. This program counters those threats by providing resources for target hardening and the integration of nonprofit preparedness activities with broader state and local preparedness efforts.”

Separate House legislation introduced Thursday by a bipartisan slate of 96 members would also add the extra $15 million for nonprofits’ security funding, and would authorize the program for another five years.

Separately, Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., hosted a conference call Wednesday for vulnerable nonprofits in his northern New Jersey district, with experts advising callers on how best to apply for federal funds to enhance security.

Since its inception in 2005, the vast majority of institutions applying for the funds from the federal nonprofit security grants program have been Jewish. What was notable on Gottheimer’s call were the queries from non-Jewish institutions, including churches and mosques, in addition to Jewish institutions.

Recommended from JTA