In a new op-ed for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, U.S. Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), Ranking Member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, discussed the need for Congress to pass his 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 has been a leader in the Senate in combatting terrorism and violent extremism. In 2020, President Trump signed Senator Portman’s 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 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 has 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.
By Senator Rob Portman
Cleveland Plain Dealer
March 6, 2022
Recently, the world commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day. During this anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, we continue to honor the six million innocent Jews and millions of others who were systematically murdered by Nazi Germany. We join survivors, friends and families of survivors, and the entire Jewish community in vowing to “Never Forget.”
The Ohio Jewish community is unfortunately no stranger to these worrisome trends. According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the number of anti-Semitic incidents in Ohio jumped more than 70% from 2019 to 2020. Not only is this a reflection of the growing rate of anti-Semitism, this data also represents the highest number of Ohio-based anti-Semitic incidents recorded in the ADL’s history.
Jewish Ohioans have faced violent and anti-Semitic threats at their houses of worship, at their community centers, and at their homes.
Four years ago, a homegrown terrorist was inspired by the Islamic State and plotted to attack two synagogues in the Toledo area. While we are grateful the perpetrator was arrested before he committed any violence, this serves as a reminder that anti-Semitism and terrorism can happen close to home. It is also not just the Jewish community that faces threats. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, and other groups have been targeted.
I am proud to have authored the first authorization of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) — an essential source of funding for faith-based and nonprofit organizations that are vulnerable to terrorism. From expanding the grant program across our 50 states, to doubling the funds from $90 million to $180 million last year, and to securing over $4 million in funding for Ohio’s houses of worship and nonprofits in 2021, I have worked to improve the impact of the NSGP. I am committed to ensuring that the NSGP be adequately funded to meet the needs of at-risk organizations this fiscal year.
Last year, I introduced the bipartisan Pray Safe Act to do just that. The Pray Safe Act directs the federal government to establish a centralized clearinghouse for faith-based organizations and houses of worship to receive security best practices, training resources, and grant information. In the wake of the attack at Congregation Beth Israel and the heightened threat of anti-Semitic violence, the Pray Safe Act is more necessary than ever and should be signed into law as soon as possible.
Our religious communities are under attack. Jews, in particular, make up roughly 2% of the entire U.S. population, yet are targets of almost 60% of religious bias crimes. These numbers are deeply troubling to me as a senator and as a U.S. citizen. We must speak out against hatred and violence and work to make the country — and Ohio — a place where we may all pray safely.