January 13, 2020

Senator Hassan’s Boston Globe Op-Ed on Protecting Houses of Worship

WASHINGTON – In case you missed it, Senator Maggie Hassan, a member of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote an op-ed for the Boston Globe on protecting houses of worship from the growing crisis of violence against religious communities across the country.

 

Senator Hassan supported a provision in the final bipartisan government funding agreement that was signed into law in December that will quadruple funding available to states to protect non-profit institutions, including houses of worship. Senator Hassan also worked to pass legislation she cosponsored through both the House and Senate that would ensure that grant funding to protect houses of worship will be available for small states and rural areas, not just major metropolitan areas. The Senator also recently introduced bipartisan legislation to create a federal commission to review how terrorist threat information – relating to both domestic and internationally inspired terrorism in the U.S. – is shared between federal agencies and with all levels of government.

 

To read the Senator’s op-ed in the Boston Globe see below or click here.

 

Strengthening our communities — physically and socially — will deter hate crimes

As Americans, we must work together to overcome the terrible resurgence of hateful rhetoric and violent extremism, and we must focus on preventive measures.

 

For many Americans, the holiday season is a time to gather with friends and family, reflect on the past year, and pray for the year to come. But this season, these joyful days were punctured by more violence targeting religious communities across the United States.

 

On December 10, gunmen killed a Jersey City, N.J., police detective and then murdered three people in a kosher market. Weeks later, at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey, New York, an attacker stabbed five people as they gathered at a rabbi’s home. Less than 24 hours later, a gunman opened fire on those attending church services in Texas, killing two people.

 

These horrific attacks are the latest in the growing crisis of violence against religious communities in our country.

 

According to the FBI, hate crimes in churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques increased nearly 35 percent between 2014 and 2018. Acts of anti-Semitism, in particular, have spiked. An Anti-Defamation League report noted that in 2017, anti-Semitic incidents rose 57 percent from the previous year — the largest single-year increase since tracking began in the 1970s.

 

No one should fear for their life when they enter a house of worship to reflect and pray, and houses of worship should not have to be locked down to keep their congregants safe. Yet, this is the new normal for some communities throughout the country.

 

We cannot accept this as the status quo. As Americans, we must all join together, stand up for our values and for each other, and reject hatred and intolerance. And while we work to overcome the terrible resurgence of hateful rhetoric and violent extremism our country is experiencing, we must focus on preventive measures, pursue those who seek to inflict harm, and help our religious communities fortify their defenses and protect their members.

 

I am encouraged that Congress is beginning to take action on a number of key initiatives to improve the safety and security of faith communities.

 

Those safety measures start with prevention. The final bipartisan government funding agreement that was signed into law in December will re-start a community-based program that provides grants to local organizations aimed at preventing terrorism. And moving forward, as a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, I will conduct oversight over the Department of Homeland Security’s work to carry out this program and continue to work with federal agencies and my colleagues in Congress on legislative efforts to keep communities safe.

 

With regard to increasing security, the bipartisan budget agreement quadrupled grant funding available to states to protect non-profit institutions, including houses of worship, by hardening organizations’ physical security. Additionally, a related bill that I cosponsored, and helped to advance in the Senate Homeland Security Committee, passed both houses of Congress at the end of last year. It codifies into law that this grant funding must be available for small states and rural areas, not just major metropolitan areas. As too many in our communities sadly know, domestic terrorism is not confined to big cities, and our efforts to prevent and mitigate attacks must not be either.

 

This funding is a vital tool to help strengthen buildings’ physical security and lessen the impact of an attack. But hardening our buildings alone is not enough.

 

I’ve also introduced bipartisan legislation to establish a federal commission to reevaluate counter-terrorism information sharing efforts at all levels of government and address any gaps. Critically, this new commission would focus on both domestic and internationally inspired homegrown terrorism, and would also include the input of state and local law enforcement who play an invaluable role in our counter-terrorism efforts.

 

These are important steps forward, but the attacks we’ve seen in recent weeks make it even clearer that we have much more work to do.

 

We need action, first and foremost, to keep Americans of all backgrounds and faiths safe, and we need to continue working to address the root causes of these threats and violence. That means hardening buildings and increasing security to be sure, but it also means standing together to reject the growing hatred and intolerance that are an affront to the core American values that we hold dear.

 

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