Senate Committee Approves Peters, Portman Bill to Increase Security Resources for Faith-Based Institutions & Nonprofit Organizations

WASHINGTON, DC – Yesterday, the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved a bipartisan bill introduced by U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Rob Portman (R-OH) to provide grants to nonprofits and faith-based organizations to help secure their facilities against potential terrorist attacks. Peters, who serves as Ranking Member on the committee, made the legislation a priority after a recent surge in prominent threats and attacks on religious institutions such as synagogues, churches, mosques and gurdwaras in communities across the country. The Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations from Terrorism Act would authorize $75 million annually over the next five years for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Of the $75 million total, $50 million will be available for nonprofits located within high-risk urban areas, and the remaining $25 million will be available for organizations in suburban and rural areas. Under the legislation, funding may be used for target-hardening activities, training for personnel, and other activities to help secure these institutions and the people they serve from violent attacks.

“This week marked four years since nine Americans lost their lives while worshipping in the Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. This anniversary serves as a tragic reminder that communities across the country still face threats and violence even in safe spaces like houses of worship, synagogues and mosques,” said Senator Peters. “I am proud to have worked alongside Senator Portman to advance this vital legislation to ensure that Americans of all faiths can practice their religions without fear of persecution or attack.”

“Today’s committee passage is an important step forward in our efforts to ensure that synagogues, religious and cultural institutions, and nonprofit organizations have the resources and training they need to secure their facilities.  It is one way Congress can help address this unnecessary violence that has tragically become more and more common,” said Senator Portman. “As I’ve said many times, there is no place for hatred or bigotry of any kind toward our fellow citizens.  The threats and attacks we’ve seen across our country are attacks on our values and this bipartisan bill will help protect faith and cultural based institutions in Ohio and across our country.”

Earlier this year, Senator Peters launched a bipartisan inquiry into the government’s efforts to prevent domestic terrorism and the recent surge in extremist violence against religious institutions, including attacks committed by white supremacists, white nationalists, neo-Nazis and related groups. An unclassified 2017 Joint Intelligence Bulletin prepared by the FBI and DHS concluded that white supremacist extremists were responsible for more homicides and attacks over the past sixteen years “than any other domestic extremist movement.”

The legislation has support from a broad coalition of groups, including the NAACP, the Jewish Federations of North America, the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit, and ACCESS.

Below are statements in support of the Senators’ bipartisan legislation:

“In light of the attacks on our religious communities and the most recent violence targeting churches, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other houses of worship, we sadly need protection to ensure that they remain safe places for people to gather,” said Hilary O. Shelton, Director of the NAACP Washington Bureau and Senior Vice President for Policy and Advocacy. “Terrible attacks like the shooting in 2018 at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina, the “Tree of Life” (or L’Simcha) Congregational Synagogue in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, as well as the recent burnings of churches in Baton Rouge, Louisiana show that these threats are not just a relic from the past but a sobering reality for today. The NAACP is grateful for Senator Peters’ work to protect places of worship from this rising heinous violence. People at worship should have peace of mind and peace at heart, and this is an important step to help congregations improve safety and ease fears.”

“We applaud Senators Gary Peters and Rob Portman for introducing S. 1539, a bill to strengthen security and preparedness at faith-based and other at-risk nonprofit institutions,” said William Daroff of the Jewish Federations of North America, a strong advocate of the bill. “Since September 11th, nonprofits generally, and Jewish communal institutions specifically, have been the victim of an alarming number of threats and attacks. This bill will bolster the ability of nonprofits to counter those threats by providing needed resources for target hardening, and the integration of nonprofit preparedness activities with broader state and local preparedness efforts.” 

“There is no better response to hatred and terrorism than our unwavering commitment to keep our houses of worship safe and, at the same time, welcoming to our communities,” said Beverly Liss, President of the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit. “We commend the Senators and their colleagues for their leadership on behalf of Jewish Detroit and cultural and religious organizations throughout our country.”

“We strive every day to help build vibrant Arab American communities in Michigan and across the country. Tragically, the wonderful people we serve face serious threats to their personal safety from hateful actors,” said Hassan Jaber, CEO of ACCESS. No one should live in fear of being attacked in public facilities or houses of worship, and we applaud Senator Peters for working to give groups like ACCESS the resources needed to safeguard against intolerable attacks and help our communities feel safe again.”