WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, U.S. Senator Maggie Hassan wrote an op-ed for the Concord Monitor about the importance of protecting houses of worship amid growing threats against religious communities. In the op-ed, Senator Hassan highlighted her conversations with faith leaders across New Hampshire and her work to help secure significantly more federal funding to help New Hampshire’s houses of worship protect against threats.
Until last year, only houses of worship and non-profit organizations located in major metropolitan area were eligible for certain grants to help them secure their facilities against potential foreign or domestic terrorist attacks. Senator Hassan has met with New Hampshire houses of worship to discuss the importance of this program, and has worked to successfully expand the program and help New Hampshire houses of worship access the grants. In January, President Trump signed into law bipartisan legislation cosponsored by Senator Hassan to codify in law that grant funding for houses of worship and non-profit organizations must be available for small states like New Hampshire, not just major metropolitan areas. Following advocacy from Senator Hassan, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) also extended the deadline for states to apply for the funding given short timeline that FEMA initially announced.
See below for Senator Hassan’s op-ed in the Concord Monitor or click here.
By Senator Maggie Hassan
Faith offers solace and hope through the darkest of times. But just when many Americans need this comfort the most, religious communities are struggling with how to keep their congregants safe from a deadly virus while still offering services and community.
New Hampshire houses of worship are working to adapt, for example, by offering online or socially distanced services and canceling cherished annual events. Above all else, religious institutions are acting to keep their members safe, while also keeping them connected to their faith communities.
These are, of course, the right priorities as COVID-19 continues to ravage our country. But as all-consuming as this public health threat is right now, we can’t let it blind us to the reality that before this pandemic, there were other increasing threats to congregants’ safety.
In recent years, we’ve seen a growing crisis of violence and threats against religious communities and houses of worship. According to the FBI, hate crimes in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques increased nearly 35% between 2014 and 2018.
Houses of worship are where we should feel safest. Yet, this disturbing trend of threats and violence is forcing faith leaders to take significant security measures to protect their congregants.
I’ve heard from faith leaders in New Hampshire who have, or are working to, install security systems and bulletproof glass, and who pay for police details to stand guard.
During a discussion last year, Rabbi Robin Nafshi of Temple Beth Jacob in Concord told me that volunteers monitor security footage before and after services. She noted that doors to the temple are opened shortly before services begin, and are locked shortly after the start of services. As she leads her congregation during those minutes when the doors are open, she says she wonders, “Is this the night we die?”
We must do more to stop the resurgence of hateful rhetoric and violent extremism that our country is experiencing. But while that work continues, we must also support the efforts of faith leaders to protect their houses of worship and their members.
Over the last year, I worked with colleagues from both parties to increase funding to help nonprofits and houses of worship strengthen their physical security.
Recently, New Hampshire nonprofits and houses of worship, including Temple Beth Jacob, were awarded a total of $635,085 in grants through the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program. This funding is four times more than our state received last year, and will help houses of worship and nonprofits around our state combat foreign and domestic terrorist threats.
Until last year, only houses of worship and nonprofit organizations located in major metropolitan areas were eligible for these grants, which was unacceptable, since these threats are not just confined to big cities. I worked with Republicans and Democrats to expand this program, and in January, President Trump signed our legislation that ensures that houses of worship in smaller and more rural places, like our New Hampshire communities, can receive this critical funding.
There is still more work to do. As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I will continue working with our congressional delegation and members of both parties to secure more funding to protect Granite Staters.
No one should feel unsafe when they go to a house of worship to reflect or pray, and increasing security measures is a necessary step to mitigate violence and honor the scared nature of these places to their members. Our work is not done, however, as we work together to address the root causes of this violence, and stand together as Americans to reject hatred and bigotry.