Homeland Security and Houses of Worship: Government Creates Faith-Based Advisory Council, Seeks to Increase Funding to Grant Program
The recent establishment of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council and a call for congress to appropriate additional funding to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program highlighted the federal government’s focus on security and anti-terrorism initiatives for churches, mosques, synagogues, and other institutions.
On September 19, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the appointment of 25 members to the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council. Appointees will advise Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas on the needs of the faith community relating to security and preparedness matters.
The advisory council includes a wide range of representatives from Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities, as well as law enforcement officials.
“These prominent faith and law enforcement leaders will help us build and strengthen the community partnerships that are so vital to our mission success,” said Mayorkas. “We will work together to increase access to our services, ensure equity, maintain openness and transparency, and fully restore the trust of the communities we serve.”
The council includes Christian leaders Kimberly Burgo, Vice President, Disaster Operations, Catholic Charities USA; Rev. Jeffery Cooper, General Secretary and Chief Information Officer, African Methodist Episcopal Church; Rev. Dr. Leslie Copeland-Tune, Chief Operating Officer, National Council of Churches; Commissioner Kenneth Hodder, National Commander, The Salvation Army, and Rev. Gabriel Salguero, President, National Latino Evangelical Coalition.
“Members of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council will provide valuable insight that will benefit our stakeholders nationwide on important issues within the scope of the Department’s mission,” said Brenda Abdelall, Assistant Secretary for Partnership and Engagement.
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The first meeting of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council will be held virtually on October 6, 2022.
According to the DHS, the Council’s contributions “will enhance the Department’s work to protect houses of worship; improve coordination and information sharing of threat information with the faith community, increase access to DHS resources, and protect against, respond to, and recover from acts of targeted violence, terrorism, and other threats.”
Some of those DHS resources include the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. In 2022, Congress appropriated $250 million to the program. This was an increase from $180 million in 2021, $90 million in 2020, and less in years prior, according to a report from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
FEMA allowed applications for up to $150,000 per unique physical address and a maximum of $450,000 per sub-applicant for the Nonprofit Security Grant. However, Jewish Insider noted that only 52% of the 3,470 applications received by FEMA this year were approved. According to the article, “the applications totaled slightly over $447 million in funding requests, well outstripping the $250 million available for the program.”
Under the grant program, funding for houses of worship can be used for contracted security personnel; security-related planning, exercises, and training; and the acquisition and installation of security equipment, including improvements.
In May, the FY2023 spending bill released by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland increased the funding amount for the Nonprofit Security Grant to $360 million.
Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), one of the advocates for increased funding, noted a spike in domestic terrorism targeted at churches and synagogues.
“Many Americans do not know that our faith-based communities typically do not often have enough resources to provide security to their members,” Pascrell said. “Government must protect people who want to practice their faith without threat of a bomb or a gunman. If one synagogue or one church or one mosque is not safe, then no churches, mosques, or temples anywhere in America are fully safe.”