A DHS panel on the security of houses of worship began its work | Techno Glob

(RNS) — On Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur this year at Temple Emanu-El, a historic Reform synagogue across Manhattan’s Central Park, a 6-by-11-inch flyer was placed on every seat, next to prayer books. Advice on what to do in the event of an attack during one of the high holiday services.

“If running away from the threat is not an option,” the flyer wrote, “crouch down in the pews or hide behind a pillar. Make yourself as small of a target as possible. Keep calm and cool. ”

An increase in anti-religious incidents over the past few years has prompted synagogues and other Jewish institutions across the country to focus on increasing their security measures and protocols. And synagogues are not the only religious houses in danger in the US.

The last major shooting at a place of worship occurred in May, when a man opened fire at a church in Laguna Woods, California, killing one and wounding five.

Related: Homeland Security appoints new 25-member Security Trust Advisory Council

In July, ahead of the 10th anniversary of the deadly attack on a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, which killed seven and injured three, the Biden administration established a Faith-Based Security Advisory Council, inviting a group of 25 faith leaders. Enforcement experts to guide the administration’s efforts to address violent attacks on faith institutions.

Council, which Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro N. will make recommendations to Mayorkas, called for the first time in early October.

The group’s members are from various faith communities, including the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Jewish Orthodox Union, the National Latino Evangelical Union, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the All Dulles (Virginia) Area Muslim Society. Law enforcement and security agencies include local police department heads, InfraGuard National Alliance members, and national NGOs active in disasters.

“You, as leaders across this country, can play a key role in understanding the challenges we face in order to achieve a closer partnership and overcome those challenges,” Mayorkas told attendees at the Oct. 6 meeting, according to a posted transcript. Online. In addition to addressing the security concerns of houses of worship, the mayor said, the group will be enlisted to build trust in DHS and ensure that assistance from the department is fair and equitable.

Kiran Kaur Gill, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund and chair of the DHS Council, echoed the Secretary’s sentiments about the need for fair access. “I can tell you, in our community, language barriers and not being familiar with the systems make it difficult for people to access resources,” she said.

For faith communities, navigating the balance between securing their space and welcoming them can be difficult, Kaur Gill said. “For the Sikh community, like many other communities, there’s a sort of inherent tension between securing our houses of worship and then following the basic tenets of our faith, including being open and allowing anyone from any background to come in.” she said

Kaur Gill and other members hope the advisory council can also look at why the threat exists in the first place, saying the group should “look at the root causes of why it’s happening and come up with innovative ways that we can tackle those problems.” “

People hug after lighting a candle in memory of Melvin Wax, Thursday, Oct. 27.  At a memorial service in Pittsburgh on Sunday, one of 11 worshipers killed four years ago when a gunman opened fire at Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood.  2022. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

People hug after lighting a candle in memory of Melvin Wax, one of 11 worshipers killed four years ago when a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, during a memorial service on October 27, 2022 in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Rabbi Jonah Paysner, director and committee member of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, attributes violence in synagogues and other public spaces to the spread of white supremacist conspiracy theories (he prefers to call them “conspiracy lies”), such as the “Great Replacement Theory, ” Combined with readily available firearms.

“My focus on this advisory committee is to get to the root of the problem,” Pesner said. “I don’t think we can get away from white supremacy and gun violence; And anti-Semitism can’t be kicked out with more security cameras,” he said.

Since 2016, DHS is Provides nonprofits with trust organizations with funding for security measures through their Nonprofit Security Grant Program. program next year The proposed funding is $360 millionA 44% increase over this year.

Pesner said the advisory committee needs to be aware of the role of security and law enforcement in different communities. “We have to remember that law enforcement is a problematic institution for some communities of color … or can actually be a threat in some cases,” he said, adding, “How do we really lean into everybody’s safety and everybody’s unity?”

Deputy Chief Tracy Baker, a 24-year veteran of the Arlington, Texas, Police Department, described building community through the Arlington Clergy and Police Partnership with local faith-based organizations, which brings together local faith leaders and law enforcement. The results of this intentional partnership are visible, she said.

Related: Resisting hatred, as people of faith, includes preparing for self-defense

“I think because we are more proactive in our approach, when they (houses of worship) see something, they contact us. Like all other agencies we have a ‘see something, say something,’ but I think because of our relationship and us learning and getting information out there ahead of time, we’ve had a lot of success in our city,” she said.

Baker said it’s also important that all faith communities feel they have equal access to the help offered by DHS. “It’s a matter of making sure everyone sees and receives the same information and the same resources,” she said. “How can the council make sure we move forward and remember everyone and leave no one behind?”

This article was created as part of RNS/Interfaith America Religion Journalism Fellowship Program.

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