The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization representing nearly 1,000 synagogues – applauded the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs for today approving S.2275 – the High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act – at committee mark-up and the committee’s rejection of an amendment offered by Senator Durbin (D-IL) which would have explicitly excluded religious non-profits from participating in this critical program.
One year ago, the UOJCA joined with a coalition of America’s leading non-profit organizations (including United Jewish Communities, American Jewish Congress, the Red Cross and the United Way) and members of the U.S. Congress to develop and introduce this new legislation which would provide financial aid to non-profit institutions at risk of terrorist attack. The risk to such institutions since 9/11 is clear. Former CIA Director Tenet and FBI Director Mueller have publicly stated that al Qaeda has turned its focus to “soft targets” such as schools, universities and houses of worship. Of particular concern to the UOJCA, are the deadly attacks upon synagogues which have been perpetrated in Istanbul and Tunisia. S.2275 enjoys broad bipartisan support – it is sponsored in the Senate by Senators Specter (R-Pa) and Mikulski (D-Md) and a dozen other senators. S.2275 will create a $100 million fund within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security [“DHS”] from which DHS will pay for physical security upgrades for non-profit institutions determined, by objective criteria, to be at risk from terrorist threat. The proposal would also create a system of loan guarantees for such projects, for when the initial funds are spent, as well as allocate $50 million for grants to local police agencies toward their efforts to secure at-risk non-profits.
The Committee rejected the amendment offered by Senator Durbin, with the support of Sen. Lautenberg (D-NJ) by a vote of 10 to 7 (with Democrats Lieberman and Carper voting against the amendment, Republican Fitzgerald voting for it). Sen. Durbin asserted that providing federally funded security enhancements to non-profits – including religious non-profits – would violate the principle of separation of church and state. Senators Collins, Specter and Lieberman vigorously refuted this point, noting that such enhancements would be providing security aid on the basis of religion-neutral criteria and not advance religion.
UOJCA director of public policy, Nathan Diament, stated:
Concerns about ‘separation of church and state’ in this context are misguided as this legislation is structured in a way which goes far beyond what is legally necessary to permit the government to protect its citizens. Aid will be granted on the basis of religion-neutral criteria and only for security enhancements, not religious activities. Senator Durbin’s proposals to exclude religious entities from coverage relied on an outdated and extreme view of what the Establishment Clause demands. We are grateful it was rejected by the Senate Govt. Affairs Cmte.