Ten years ago, a gunman attacked the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin in the town of Oak Creek. Six people died and four were wounded, and a seventh victim died of his wounds in 2020.
Tragically, threats and acts of violence against places of worship have increased over the past 10 years, both in the United States and abroad. Recent fatal shootings at houses of worship in the United States include attacks at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina; Burnette Chapel Church of Christ in Antioch, Tennessee; First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Chabad of Poway in Poway, California; West Freeway Church of Christ in Tarrant County, Texas; Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Woods, California; Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa; and St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Vestavia Hills, Alabama.
President Biden has pledged to do everything in his power to ensure that Americans can practice their faith without fear. As President Biden has said: “We must be vigilant against the rising tide of targeted violence and hate at home and abroad, and work to ensure that no one feels afraid to attend a religious service, school, or community center, or walk down the street wearing the symbols of their faith.” This is a bedrock principle of our nation’s commitment to religious freedom for all. The Biden-Harris Administration will continue to work shoulder-to-shoulder with Americans of all faiths and beliefs to safeguard these cherished principles and to preserve our nation’s founding promise as an enduring citadel of diversity, unity, and mutual respect.
To achieve these aims, President Biden signed, and his Administration is implementing laws that will make communities safer, including the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act and the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act and the Jabara-Heyer NO HATE Act. The Administration is also taking executive actions to: reduce gun violence; prioritize efforts to combat hate crimes, including crimes committed on the basis of religious identity or affiliation; and implement the first-ever National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism. These efforts safeguard all individuals, including those who gather at places of worship.
The Biden-Harris Administration is also protecting places of worship and congregants by taking additional steps, including:
Expanding funding for securing places of worship and other nonprofit entities
- In fiscal year 2022, the Administration implemented a nearly 20% increase in funding – from $180 million to $250 million – in the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP), which provides support for increasing the physical security of nonprofit organizations, including houses of worship and other religious affiliated entities. President Biden called for $360 million for this key program in his fiscal year 2023 budget proposal.
- The Department of Justice (DOJ) updated a set of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) to clarify and highlight that Byrne JAG funding can be used by state and local governments to increase patrols and deployments that bolster the security of at-risk nonprofit organizations including churches, gurdwaras, mosques, synagogues, temples, and other places of worship.
Creating a one-stop online clearinghouse of federal resources designed to counter terrorism and targeted violence-prevention
- As called for in the National Strategy for Countering Domestic Terrorism, federal departments and agencies are collaborating to develop a one-stop online clearinghouse to help users easily navigate and access a wide range of federal resources available to support the prevention of terrorism and targeted violence.
Increasing coordination and strengthening resources
- The White House established the Protecting Places of Worship Interagency Policy Committee, co-chaired by the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council, to coordinate interagency efforts supporting the safety and security of places of worship.
- DHS piloted a new initiative to enhance the sharing of threat information with community and faith-based based partners, to include emerging threat information, products, and the reporting of suspicious activities.
- DHS developed an unclassified online training on identifying, evaluating, and reporting suspicious activities designed for non-governmental partners, including faith-based and community-based organizations.
- DHS enabled faith-based partners to access threat information and products via the Homeland Security Information Network (HSIN), which serves as the Department’s secure platform for sharing unclassified threat information. This includes information on threats to faith-based groups, facilities, and houses of worship, as well as potential motivators to violence related to religion. DHS field-based personnel also directly engage with faith-based organizations to share threat information, as well as resources available to support faith-based organizations’ efforts to prevent, protect against, and respond to threats.
- The National Counterterrorism Center updated the Threats Against Houses of Worship Highlight the Importance of Religious Community Outreach product, which raises awareness of potential threats to houses of worship, faith-based organizations, and faith leaders and recommends best practices for engaging religious communities.
- Federal partners have developed and deployed the following services designed to support faith-based organizations, including:
- Tabletop Exercise Packages to assist faith-based stakeholders in conducting their own exercises, with scenarios including active shooters, vehicle ramming, and improvised explosive devices.
- A webinar highlighting best practices for preventing targeted violence and protecting the safety and security of houses of worship.
- Guidance for houses of worship to protect themselves against acts of arson.
- Protecting Places of Worship Forums to provide faith-based leaders and congregations with information about hate crimes committed on the basis of religion, state and federal hate crimes laws, law enforcement threat assessments, and ways to protect places of worship from potential hate crimes and other threats of violence.
Expanding engagement with faith-based and community-based organizations, including historically underrepresented communities
- In support of National Preparedness Month in September 2022, DHS will launch a national week of action encouraging faith-based and community organizations to safeguard people and places through partnerships with local emergency managers and first responders. This week of action will include virtual and in-person workshops and the release of multi-media content for faith-based and community-based organizations.
- The Protecting Places of Worship Interagency Policy Committee plans to launch a network promoting peer-to peer learning on protecting places of worship and community spaces. Opportunities for faith-based and community organizations to join the partnership network will be available starting late fall of 2022.
Making grant programs more accessible and equitable
- DHS has simplified the NSGP application process by developing a “quick-start guide” to help nonprofit organizations navigate the process. To ensure that current and future NSGP awardees know what is required and expected to successfully manage a grant award, DHS will offer a Post-Award Grants Management webinar series specific for nonprofit organizations as awardees.
- Nonprofit organizations located in socially vulnerable areas (as determined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Social Vulnerability Index) as well as nonprofit organizations that have never received a NSGP award will receive bonus points in the final scoring methodology to help strengthen their ability to be selected for funding.
- DHS added a new priority to its fiscal year 2022 Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention (TVTP) Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO): Advancing Equity in Awards and Engaging Underserved Communities in Prevention. The TVTP Grant Program team developed and implemented a communications plan to increase the diversity of applicants for the program.
- DOJ is making more of its grant programs on hate crimes, as well as it training and technical assistance, more accessible and user-friendly to a wide array of stakeholders. For example, DOJ posted several solicitations that provide priority consideration to applicants that propose projects addressing equity or the removal of barriers to access and opportunity for communities that have been historically marginalized, underserved, and adversely affected by inequality.
- In the fall of 2022, DOJ will begin a series of webinars to help community-based and culturally-specific organizations (including faith-based organizations) apply for federal grants, be able to sustain and grow their programming, and better support culturally-specific innovation and services.