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DHS Offers New Recommendations for Faith-Based Organization Security

A new report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) calls for immediate aid to improve security and prevent future attacks at houses of worship and faith-based communities.

According to the draft report—Preventing Targeted Violence Against Faith-Based Communities, released 17 December by the Homeland Security Advisory Council Subcommittee for the Prevention of Targeted Violence Against Faith-based Organizations—while American secular democracy has grown alongside a diverse and vibrant faith-based community, “in the last several years, America has experienced an increase in targeted violence against our faith-based communities and organizations. Houses of worship and their congregants, and individuals with a particular faith identity, have been terrorized and, in some cases, attacked ruthlessly and injured or brutally murdered.”

In May, then Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan requested the formation of this subcommittee, focusing on three specific areas: ensuring two-way information flows between DHS and faith-based organizations, evaluating preparedness and protective efforts for the faith community, and evaluating the role the faith-based community should or could have in locally based prevention efforts. The report also evaluates the adverse effects that violent extremists and domestic terrorists—including white nationalists—have on faith-based and vulnerable communities.

The report addresses several findings and makes recommendations for new DHS positions and actions, including:

  • Form a central point of contact within DHS for matters associated with the security of faith-based organizations.
  • Establish a package approach to proactive faith-based organization security training, led by DHS.
  • Relationships between state and local law enforcement and faith-based organizations are “unlevel” across the United States, especially outside urban areas. DHS should encourage faith-based organizations to work with local first responder partners to develop real-time information sharing systems.
  • The role of protective security advisors (PSAs) needs to be enhanced, and the specific requirements of PSAs should be determined by DHS.
  • Fusion Center resources are not well understood by faith-based organizations; additional outreach is required.
  • The absence of a domestic terrorism statute is hampering law enforcement members’ efforts to track and prosecute domestic terrorist groups. The report recommends Congress work with DHS and the Department of Justice to pass a statute defining domestic terrorism and providing adequate funds to assist law enforcement.
  • Increase grant money through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Nonprofit Security Grant Program and form an office dedicated to assisting applicants to navigate the grants process.

In the report’s conclusion, the subcommittee notes the challenges facing faith-based organizations, including a lack of awareness about the grant proposal process and alternative sources of funding, security technology available and how to procure and operate it, and information sharing channels.

Regarding the latter, the report notes “we conclude there is a need for a single, national web-based portal, with an accompanying application for mobile devices, that should be resourced and operated by the Department on behalf of the entire faith-based community.”

Funding challenges have long affected houses of worship and faith-based institutions. As reported in Security Management in October, the fundamental threats to houses of worship have changed in recent years, according to Paul Goldenberg, a senior fellow at the Miller Center for Community Protection and Resilience with Rutgers University.

Twenty-five years ago, the primary outside threats to religious institutions were desecration of cemeteries, graffiti, the occasional assault, and a rare firebombing. The paradigm has shifted, though, and disaffected persons are acting out against religious facilities and peoples of faith, he said.

“It has now become a much more complex and a much more sinister environment,” Goldenberg added. “That’s why we really do need to focus on changing the culture of security from one of reaction to one of prevention and resiliency.”