ANNAPOLIS (WJZ) — In the wake of targeted attacks on synagogues, mosques and churches across the United States, local leaders came together Monday to take a stand against religious bigotry.
Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen announced their support for a new proposal that calls for quadrupling a federal security grant for places of worship.
They said there's an urgent need to make them safer given the number of attacks there have been as of late, including the recent Hannukkah stabbings in New York and the murders of Orthodox Jewish community members in Jersey City.
Recent FBI statistics show that hate crime incidents at churches, synagogues, temples and mosques have increased by almost 35 percent.
"Last year there was the first murder of Jews in the synagogue at prayer in Pittsburgh," said Nathan Diament with the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America. "We've seen again church shootings and mosque shootings and Sikh temple and this is terribly, terribly disturbing."
The new proposal calls for quadrupling the federal nonprofit security grant from $90 million to $360 million, which could pay for security improvements at places of worship including more secure doors and security guards.
"This is the way we can do our part to help protect places of worship even as we speak out to try to bring people together," Van Hollen said.
"The realities are that houses of worship are no longer safe from the point of view of terrorism," Cardin said. "Security is just a given thing now today."
The senators were joined by Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders, many who said the grant programs are critical to protecting religious buildings.
"We need the money to harden all of the surroundings for the faith-based houses," said Rudwan Abu-Rumman with the Anne Arundel County Muslim Council.
"It is all making a difference to help keep our places of worship both safe and welcoming," said Howard Libit with the Baltimore Jewish Council.
Both senators said there is bipartisan leadership support for increasing this funding and they are optimistic that it will happen.
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