​Serious Money is Needed to Protect America’s Holy Places

by Stephen Bryen

I have just finished writing a book that will be published soon called Security for Holy Places: ​How to do a Security Plan and Get Financial Help.  In the book I take a close look at available financial assistance.

Whether a Christian church or assembly, a Mosque or a Synagogue, whether white or black or Asian or other ethnicity, everyone who goes to pray does so at risk.

Investigators work at the scene of a mass shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday Nov. 5, 2017. A man opened fire inside of the church in the small South Texas community on Sunday, killing more than 20 people.(Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

And despite some declining attendance numbers, still many go to worship.

Among some 35 different Christian denominations there are over 100,000 local congregations with as many as 45 million worshipers.

For Jewish worshipers there are 3,727 synagogues.

There are 2,106 mosques in the United States and a Muslim population of around 3.15 million.

The United States had 7,498 Catholic schools in 2006-07, including 6,288 elementary schools and 1,210 secondary schools.

In total there were 2,320,651 students, including 1,682,412 students in the elementary/middle schools and 638,239 in high schools.

There were 861 Jewish day schools in USA in 2013-2014, with an enrollment of 255,000 children from age 4 to grade 12.

There are hundreds of Christian, Jewish, Muslim and other camps in the United States, some day camps, some overnight. On top of that many church groups sponsor retreats and adult study away from the city or town, often in summer camp grounds during the off season.

For information on some Christian summer camps, click here written by Mark Evans.

For information on Jewish summer camps, click here.

For Muslim summer camps click here.

A chapter on the challenge of camp security is included in my book.

Many of our congregations in the United States lack any kind of security protection, although people are finally starting to understand that the threat is real and going to church with a wide open doorway is risking of lives of everyone there. 

But the problem is how to get financial help, especially where the church, synagogue or mosque is in a big budget deficit.

The most robust program in the United States available to finance security is through FEMA, the Federal Emergency Planning Agency.  FEMA is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

FEMA runs a Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) that is a major source of funds for religious organizations. Funding for 2019 is set at $60 million as it was in 2018. Before 2018 the amount available nationally through FEMA was $25 million. The significant increase in funds represents both the growth in demand for assistance and the increase in hate-related crimes in the United States.

Of the $60 million allocated, $50 million is reserved for designated urban areas. Non-designated urban area grants are identified as NSGP-S. Urban area grants are designated as NSGP-UA.

In Fiscal year (FY) 2018, the Non Profit Security Grant Program (NSGP) expanded making allowable costs to include security training for all nonprofit staff, planning related costs, and exercises related cost, in addition to the traditionally allowable equipment.

The FY 2019 NSGP supports investments that improve the ability of organizations nationwide to:

o Prevent a threatened or an actual act of terrorism;
o Protect our citizens, residents, visitors, and assets against the greatest threats and hazards;
o Mitigate the loss of life and property by lessening the impact of future disasters;
o Respond quickly to save lives, protect property and the environment, and meet basic human needs in the aftermath of a catastrophic incident; and/or
o Recover through a focus on the timely restoration, strengthening, and revitalization of infrastructure, housing, and a sustainable economy, as 
well as the health, social, cultural, historic, and environmental fabric of communities affected by a catastrophic incident.

The FEMA program is funded out of FEMA funding allocations and the faith based initiative is not separately legislated. New legislative proposals have recently been introduced to establish the grant program and fund it separately.

The amount of funds available both to put in place security systems and hire guards and the need to maintain and support these systems and personnel falls ways below what is actually needed.

In the author’s opinion, a properly funded program would run at a minimum of $250 million annually and elsewhere I have proposed that the US government provide $1 billion annually for the protection of holy places. This may sound like a lot, but actually it is a modest investment on a nation-wide basis. 

What I wrote a few years ago still holds: “Today it is reported that the United States has spent more than $5.6 trillion on Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria fighting terrorism. Going forward, as ISIS is almost defeated but its terrorist activities are rapidly spreading in our direction, better protection of our faith based institutions is a national security necessity. That means we have to make the resources available including a significant increase in funding for vital security grants.”

At present without legislation there is not much chance for any dramatic further increase in FEMA money. Moreover, state and local grants, such as they are, generally are very small when compared to need. Proposed legislative remedies (such as that proposed by Senator Rob Portman and Congressman Gary Peters) provides very modest funding increase and no funding increase for urban areas. Separately, U.S. Senators Martha McSally (R-Ariz.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) introduced legislation to ensure that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides state and local law enforcement with adequate resources to protect faith-based community centers and houses of worship across the United States.

The bill would provide $75 million in additional funding to DHS under the existing State Homeland Security Grant Program, bringing the total program to $135 million. McSally and Heinrich and with 31 bipartisan colleagues also asked the Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee to add the $75 million to current Department of Homeland Security funding.

Another problem is that congregations outside of “designated urban areas” also face threats, both domestic and foreign but the amount available throughout the United States is only $10 million this year.  That leaves very little for each state and at risk communities.

In short, America needs a much more aggressive, well funded billion dollar program to protect out faith based institutions.  Will Congress get serious and allocate the funds?

[Security for Holy Places: ​How to do a Security Plan and Get Financial Help will be in bookstores and available online later this year.]

Visit my author’s page on Amazon.