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Interfaith coalition calls for more funding of gov't security program amid spike in church vandalism

Interfaith coalition calls for more funding of gov't security program amid spike in church vandalism

Saints Peter and Paul Church is a Roman Catholic Church in San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood, directly across from Washington Square. | Getty Images

A diverse coalition of faith leaders has called on Congress to increase funding for a government security program for nonprofits amid a wave of vandalisms of church properties.

In a letter sent to members of Congress on Monday, the coalition asked for more funds to be directed to the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program.

The letter noted that this year, approximately $90 million was made available to nonprofits to pay for various security improvements. The coalition asked for an increase to $360 million.

The proposed amount would be split in two, with $180 million going to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program under the Urban Area Security Initiative and $180 million going to the Nonprofit Security Grant Program under the State Homeland Security Grant Program.

“Our sacred spaces have been desecrated, and our faithful murdered,” read the letter. “The most recent available statistics from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for 2018, show that at least 1,244 hate crimes were committed against members of the faiths we represent.”

“In recent congressional testimony, FBI Director Christopher Wray warned that the greatest threats to the homeland are posed by domestic violent extremists who attack soft targets, such as places of worship, and who are difficult to detect and disrupt before they act.”

The signatories of the letter added that they “believe that protecting the ability of all Americans to live out their faith without fear or harm is one of the most important duties of the federal government.”

“At a time of increasing extremism and antagonism towards different religious groups and religion in general, we believe significant increased funding for this important government program in fiscal year 2021 is imperative,” they concluded.

Groups that signed the letter include the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops Committee for Religious Liberty, Agudath Israel of America, the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, The Episcopal Church, Lutheran Center for Religious Liberty, The Jewish Federations of North America, National Association of Evangelicals, National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA, North American Division of the Seventh-day Adventists, Sikh Council for Interfaith Relations, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

Over the summer, amid riots that stemmed from protests against police brutality and racism, several historic monuments and churches, especially Roman Catholic properties, were vandalized.

Incidents included a man setting fire to a church in Florida while parishioners were inside and a Virgin Mary statue outside a church in Massachusetts being destroyed.

In response to this apparent trend, Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., asked U.S. Attorney General William Barr to step up efforts to end the attacks on Catholic churches.

“The trend of desecrating Catholic spaces and property must stop,” wrote Kennedy to Barr back in August. “I trust you are actively working to identify and prosecute those who have committed these destructive acts. I ask that you also focus your efforts on preventing such violence to both Catholic people and property.”

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