OU Calls on Congress to Help Secure America’s At-Risk Non-Profits Against Terrorist Attacks

Posted on April 1, 2004 In Press Releases

This morning, at a Capitol Hill press conference, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America – the nation’s largest Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization representing nearly 1,000 synagogues – joined with a coalition of America’s leading non-profit organizations and members of the U.S. Congress in support of 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. CIA Director George Tenet and FBI Director Robert Mueller have publicly stated that al Qaeda has turned its focus to “soft targets” such as schools, universities and houses of worship. Al Qaeda’s willingness to assault targets of all types has been made clear with attacks around the globe. Of particular concern to the UOJCA, are the deadly attacks upon synagogues which have been perpetrated in Istanbul and Tunisia.

In the wake of these threats, synagogues, along with other important non-profit institutions in America, have sought to upgrade their physical security. Some non-profits have already undertaken steps in this direction, but for many non-profits the cost of security upgrades has deferred action. Thus, over the last several months, the UOJCA has worked very closely with a coalition of non-profit groups, led by United Jewish Communities, to develop this legislative proposal.

The proposed “High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act of 2004” – introduced today by legislators including Senators Arlen Specter (R-Pa) and Barbara Mikulski (D-Md) and Representatives George Nethercutt (R-Wa), Chris Shays (R-Ct), Elliot Engel (D-NY) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) — 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.

In connection with the legislation’s introduction, UOJCA President Harvey Blitz stated:

There is great concern in the American synagogue community that the heinous attacks we have witnessed overseas could, God forbid, be perpetrated here. We very much appreciate the willingness of senators and representatives to help us improve the security of our community institutions and, we pray, prevent such attacks.

Noting that some voices have raised concerns about the legislation’s making public funds available to religious institutions such as synagogues and parochial schools if deemed at-risk, 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 manner which goes far beyond what is legally necessary to permit the government to fund the physical protection of its citizens.