In a new joint op-ed for FOX News, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Chair of the Emerging Threats Subcommittee, discussed the need for Congress to pass their bipartisan Pray Safe Act to establish a federal clearinghouse through which faith-based organizations and houses of worship could access information on safety and security best practices, available federal grant programs, and training opportunities. The legislation has passed out of the Committee and must now be considered before the full Senate.
Portman and Hassan have been leaders in the Senate in combatting terrorism and violent extremism. Last year, Senators Portman, Gary Peters (D-MI), and Hassan announced that President Trump signed their bipartisan Protecting Faith-Based and Nonprofit Organizations From Terrorism Act into law. This legislation authorizes $75 million annually for five years, from FYs 2020-2024, for the Department of Homeland Security’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP). Portman and Hassan helped double the amount of funding available for the NSGP in the FY 2021 bipartisan funding agreement.
As the recent hostage situation at the Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas demonstrates, targeted violence against houses of worship remains a prevalent threat and antisemitism in the United States unfortunately persists. That’s why Portman and Hassan have called on Congress to pass the Pray Safe Act to ensure houses of worship who face threats of violence and terror have the information and resources they need to protect their congregations from terrorism.
Excerpts of the op-ed can be found below and the full op-ed can be found here.
No More Texas Synagogue Attacks – Pass Bipartisan Pray Safe Act
By Senators Rob Portman and Maggie Hassan
February 6, 2022
As Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker was preparing to begin Saturday services on the morning of Jan. 15, 2022, he welcomed a man who had knocked on the window and looked cold inside his synagogue. Cytron-Walker made the man tea and then began his livestreamed Shabbat service. With his back turned to the man, the rabbi recalls hearing a click, turning around, and seeing a gun. For over 10 hours, this man held Rabbi Cytron-Walker and three other congregants hostage at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas. The attack at Congregation Beth Israel was a blatant act of antisemitism and terrorism. Unfortunately, such acts are proving less of a rarity as senseless violence grows far too common in Jewish communities across the United States.
In addition to attacks, houses of worship in Ohio, New Hampshire and across the country have received direct threats – forcing them to have to take new measures to scale up their security. This should serve as a reminder that targeted violence against our houses of worship remains a prevalent threat, and that antisemitism in the United States is, unfortunately, still alive and well.
In the Senate, we’ve been working on ways to help strengthen the security of our religious communities. Last year, as members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, we introduced our bipartisan bill, the Pray Safe Act. The legislation directs the federal government to establish a centralized clearinghouse of safety and security best practices, training resources, grant application information, and other assistance – all dedicated to securing houses of worship and faith-based organizations.
The Pray Safe Act will help to address many concerns brought to life in this hostage situation. It will create a place for religious institutions to access trainings – like the trainings received by the Congregation Beth Israel synagogue that Rabbi Cytron-Walker lauded for providing lifesaving knowledge that was integral to the survival of the hostages.
In addition to training, Congregation Beth Israel was a recipient of FEMA Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSPG) funds, which in part helped to pay for the synagogue’s camera system that Cytron-Walker credited for assisting the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to monitor the situation. The Pray Safe Act will improve nationwide knowledge of NSGP, which will in turn improve the current unequal distribution of these grant funds across different states.
Passing the Pray Safe Act will ensure that all houses of worship who face threats of violence and terror have information on security trainings and NSGP applications.
No one should fear for their life when they enter a house of worship to reflect and pray, nor should houses of worship have to be locked down to keep their congregants safe. Yet as the horrific events at Congregation Beth Israel showed us, this is the new normal for far too many faith communities throughout the country.
Addressing antisemitism and hate of all forms is a fight that no single piece of legislation can solve, but there are steps that Congress can take today. It’s time for Congress to pass the bipartisan Pray Safe Act and make sure that religious communities have the resources that they need to pray and gather in peace.