TEXAS — The hostage situation last month at a Texas synagogue once again shed light on the harsh reality for houses of worship to strengthen security and hold active-shooter trainings. Texas lawmakers in Congress are looking at how they can boost the federal funds to do just that.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker and three other members of Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville made it out alive from the attack in part because of security training. It is something religious leaders everywhere have considered investing in.
“It truly is a wake-up call for every organization to look at their emergency operation plan, to look at their security side assessments, to look at the infrastructure and the security layers that they have in place or don’t have in place,” said Bill Humphrey, director of the community security initiative at the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas.
In the attack's wake, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Texans sent a letter to the heads of the U.S. House Appropriations Committee urging they double the funding for grants that support nonprofits with security and preparedness through the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“Now more than ever, we must make sure that our places of worship and nonprofits can utilize these FEMA grants to help them protect their facilities and the people in them,” said Rep. Colin Allred, D-Dallas, who was among those leading the bipartisan effort. “After the hostage crisis at Beth Israel in Colleyville, it is clear that Congress, in partnership with local, state and federal law enforcement, must do all we can to protect our places of worship. We must all work together to root out hate wherever it exists.”
Last year, there was $180 million in funding for the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, and some lawmakers are seeking to increase it to $360 million.
“We need to have enough to prove to the people that we’re going to protect the freedom of practice of religion in this country,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson, D-Dallas, told Capital Tonight. “We’ve experienced that in the south with Baptist churches. Our African American houses of worship are getting attacked. We just have to be ready to be able to respond, because our constitution still has embedded a freedom of the practice of religion.”
In advocating for a boost in funds, Rep. Beth Van Duyne, R-Irving, looked at data showing the disproportionate number of hate crimes targeting the Jewish community.
“It’s going to be a multi-prong approach. Calling out antisemitic behavior when you see it, when we see these types of attacks. Identifying them for what they are is necessary to be able to fight back. But, you know, my goal is that we won’t need this kind of funding in the future,” Van Duyne told Capital Tonight.
Van Duyne also pointed to last year’s allocation, and she said she believes Texas is not getting its share. She referred to the latest data from FEMA that showed while Texas received more than $6.5 million, New Jersey and New York combined received just over $40 million. The Dallas-Forth Worth area was allocated $150,000.
“They’ll fill out the grant applications, and they’re fairly detailed. Then, they don’t ever hear back about why they didn’t receive the grant. It’s got to be frustrating, especially when you see how those dollars are being allocated to other areas of the country and not to Texas,” Van Duyne said.
After meeting with Jewish leaders in North Texas earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, also raised concerns about applications getting turned down, and he said wants more houses of worship in the state to get grants.
“I wish we lived in a world where a house of worship didn’t need to worry about an act of violence and act of terrorism but there is evil in this world,” Cruz told reporters. “We need to respond to that hate by keeping our citizens safe.”
Last year, FEMA received nearly $400 million in applications across the country.
“That funding is, is critical. It’s needed. And certainly how that is dispersed across the different states and the different cities really needs to be looked at,” Humphrey said.
Earlier this week, a House Homeland Security Subcommittee held a hearing about protecting houses of worship and examining the federal grant program. Cytron-Walker was among those who testified.
“Right now, there are far too many houses of worship that won’t get the support they need, especially small congregations. Tragically, we live in a world where all houses of worship need protection. All of us need protection,” he said. “I believe that both Democrats and Republicans desperately want to change that reality.”