Religious institutions in the United States face an unprecedented level of violent attacks today. In fact, it’s estimated that 617 worshipers were killed at houses of worship in the U.S. between 1999 and 2019. This includes:

This problem isn’t unique to marginalized communities: Between 2000 and 2020, American churches experienced 19 fatal shootings. As a result, 80 percent of Protestant pastors say their church has some security measures in place.  

The threat of violence is now a tragic feature of religious life in America, forcing many faith leaders to become ad hoc security planners. But safety, and all that it entails, is an expensive and complex process that most houses of worship simply cannot afford.

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Fortunately, the federal government offers funds through the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NPSG), which allows any at-risk nonprofit organization, including houses of worship and other religious institutions, to seek financial support to help protect itself from violence. For almost two decades, funding assistance from federal, state, and local governments has provided limited support for security hardening and enhancements for our nation’s religious institutions. Recently, Congress appropriated $90 million for this program in FY2020 and $180 million in FY2021. The problem is that even though the program’s funds have increased, the money available has not kept pace with the scale of the problem.

The threat against marginalized, faith-based groups and community organizations is not going away. It has taken root in America’s psyche. The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center jointly assessed that domestic violent extremists and racially/ethnically motivated violent extremists will continue to pose a lethal threat. These threats are especially difficult to detect as offenders are often radicalized online on an individual basis.  

FBI data in recent years has corroborated what the Jewish community across the United States has been saying: antisemitic incidents have been increasing. (The Jewish community has been the greatest target of all religious-based hate crimes since official reporting started in 1994.) According to the official statistics, hate crimes rose to their highest numbers in two decades in 2020, with more than 1,000 religion-based incidents. 

The NPSG program helps keep communities safe by providing grants to cover the costs of security needs. These grants ensure that America’s religious diversity continues to flourish and all faiths can practice in peace and safety. Unfortunately, the current funding levels, though they have increased, still do not come close to meeting the growing need for increased protection for groups across the country. Last year, the NSGP program was able to fund less than half of the grant applications it received, leaving many marginalized faith communities vulnerable.  

Increased funding for the NPSG program will allow additional marginalized groups to secure their communities. ADL is committed to sharing our extensive knowledge and best practices to help other communities pursue this essential funding. When funding is inadequate, there’s the risk of pitting vulnerable communities and faith groups in competition with one another to receive critical safety support, rather than uniting around common goals.

Thankfully, the latest Build Back Better budget includes an additional $100 million in funding, which, in addition to the $180 million appropriated, brings us closer to the $360 million that we believe is truly necessary to meet the demand. But at a time of increased vulnerability to hate-motivated violence by domestic extremists, Congress must support this funding for non-profit religious institutions and other non-profit organizations that we know are at high risk of attack. The consequences of not doing so could be deadly. 

Max Sevillia is Vice President of Government Relations, Advocacy and Community Engagement for ADL (the Anti-Defamation League).