America was built on a foundation of religious freedom and tolerance. We haven’t always lived up to these ideals, but we’ve never stopped trying. And today, with communities of faith increasingly being targeted with hate-filled acts of violence and intimidation, we must redouble our efforts to reach our highest values.
In recent years, anti-Semitism has increased markedly, with anti-Semitic incidents and assaults spiking during the Trump Presidency. This alarming pattern of increased, and increasingly dangerous, prejudice has impacted those outside the Jewish faith as well. Christian, Muslim, and Sikh communities, among others, have all fallen victim to acts of domestic terrorism in the past few years.
These despicable attacks, which have wounded communities and destroyed lives from Poway to Charleston to Pittsburgh to Bloomington to Sutherland Springs to White Settlement, are unmistakably acts of terrorism — they are designed to use fear and violence to undermine people’s ability to proudly celebrate their faith. This evil has no place in our country. As president, Joe Biden will safeguard our nation’s religious communities through policies that ensure national and communal security support to faith-based organizations.
The Biden Plan for Safeguarding America’s Faith-Based Communities recognizes that we must involve federal, state, and local governments, as well as our houses of worship, in order to strike at the core of extremist violence and the social conditions that give rise to it. As president, Biden will lead by example: with tolerance and understanding from the highest levels of our government. He will also restore a national culture of inclusiveness that encourages individuals of all faiths to celebrate their beliefs openly and without fear of harm or reprisal. He will take on the NRA and gun manufacturers to pass critical gun safety reforms and get weapons of war out of our communities. And, Biden will demonstrate a personal interest in the security of our religious communities.
Biden’s Plan consists of several complementary policy proposals:
- Providing Increased Security Grants to Religious Communities
- Establishing a Faith Based Law Enforcement Program
- Strengthening Prosecution of Hate Crimes
These proposals to provide direct protection to faith-based communities are an important start. But, more will be needed. No American should fear attending a religious service, school, or community center. We all have a right to practice our faith openly, or to practice no faith at all—a right that is being degraded under the Trump Administration’s watch. The Biden Plan for Safeguarding America’s Faith-Based Communities will empower religious organizations to provide safe places of worship and community for their members, while also reaffirming our national commitment to freedom, tolerance, and inclusivity.
Providing Increased Security Grants to Religious Communities
First and foremost, Biden will ensure that places of worship have access to robust and direct security support from the federal government. We cannot leave our faith-based organizations to rely on donations and internal fundraising efforts to guard against deadly attacks. As president, Biden will work with Congress to attain an immediate and substantial increase in direct security grant funding to faith-based organizations through the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).
NSGP grants have already helped places of worship around the country to improve the safety of congregation members. This funding has been used to:
- Harden physical infrastructure to guard against arson and other forms of attack;
- Hire and staff trained armed security personnel;
- Conduct communal security training;
- Implement facility access controls; and
- Improve emergency preparedness and life-saving incident response protocols.
Existing annual funding levels for the NSGP are plainly insufficient. Requests from faith-based organizations last year, according to some estimates, far outstripped the available funding of just $90 million. In the future, funding for this critical program must increase by multiples to meet the need, particularly with anticipated demand for grants given the recent history and pattern of attacks. Upon taking office, Biden will convene the faith-based community with DHS to identify an appropriate funding allocation for the NSGP. Biden will then work closely with Congress to secure this funding as an urgent priority. And, he will further direct DHS to streamline the NSGP vetting and disbursement process to ensure that federal funding will more quickly reach the congregations and organizations that so desperately need it.
Establishing a Faith-Based Law Enforcement Program
In addition to his support for increased direct grant funding, Biden will press for legislation to authorize a new law enforcement program, housed within the Department of Justice (DOJ), dedicated to preventing attacks against faith-based organizations. This program will provide federal, state, and local law enforcement with:
- Tools to process and operationalize, as appropriate, domestic extremist threat information;
- Training in active threat preparation and response at religious community sites; and
- Financial assistance to fund local law enforcement to protect houses of worship.
This program will also be supplemented by new efforts, led by DHS and supported by DOJ, to build security capacity within faith-based organizations. These efforts will take the form of tabletop security exercises with community institutions, classroom training, and other programs designed to transfer best practices between government security experts and local religious communities.
Strengthening Prosecutions of Hate Crimes
Investments in law enforcement and capacity building will be complemented by Biden’s commitment to bringing to justice the perpetrators of violence against our religious communities.
Biden will direct the Justice Department to prioritize the prosecution of hate crimes — crimes which have increased significantly under the Trump Administration. Biden will also seek legislation that increases the potential sentence for certain hate crimes that occur in houses of worship and other religious community sites. And, in the interim, he will do everything in his executive power to ensure that the Department of Justice aggressively pursues such heinous acts of violence to the fullest extent of the law.
Integrating Support for Faith-Based Communities into a Broader anti-Hate Agenda
Biden believes that we must treat both the symptoms and the causes of anti-religious extremism. The Trump Administration courts the growing white supremacist movement in our country, and has brought its advocates into the inner circles of the White House. This appalling embrace gives political cover to and encourages the forces that terrorize our diverse communities. It will end under the Biden Administration.
Biden will advance whole-of-society efforts to prevent and address all forms of extremist violence in the United States. He will build capacity to diagnose and treat mental health issues that impact many who are susceptible toward violence. He will demand that social media and technology platforms do more to root out toxic extremist content that is radicalizing people online. And finally, he will prioritize information sharing so that when the federal government learns of threats directed at religious organizations online, that information is shared promptly with local authorities and with the targeted organization.