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Federal government to boost funds for security at places of worship

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(The Center Square) — Churches, synagogues and mosques in New York state could be getting more federal money to bolster their defenses against possible attacks and hate crimes amid a rise in threats against Jewish and Muslim communities fueled by the Israel-Hamas war.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program is making another $400 million available for houses of worship to apply for funds to hire security, install cameras and other steps to harden their infrastructure against attacks, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer announced Sunday.

“We’re going to keep funding so that no synagogue or other religious institution is going to have to live in the fear that they now live with,” Schumer, a New York Democrat, said in a statement.

The increased funding for security upgrades follows a surge of high-profile attacks on the Jewish community, which have raised security concerns among religious leaders and civil rights groups who have noted a surge in reports of bias and hate crimes.

Over the weekend, three New York City synagogues and the Brooklyn Museum received bomb threats through email, the New York Police Department said. The threats prompted two synagogues to evacuate, but no explosives were discovered by authorities.

Schumer said the bomb threats “created immense fear, but sadly, these threats are not a total shock given the rise in antisemitism that we have seen and the overall spike in threats to places of worship.”

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said the threats were determined not credible, but said the state “will not tolerate individuals sowing fear & antisemitism. Those responsible must be held accountable for their despicable actions,” she posted on social media over the weekend.

The unrest has also been fueled by pro-Palestinian protests at Columbia University and other college campuses in New York and across the nation, some of which involved violent clashes between demonstrators and counter-protesters.

Antisemitic incidents of assault and harassment more than doubled last year to a record high as anti-Jewish sentiment spiked after the start of the Israel-Hamas war, according to a recent Anti-Defamation League report.

FBI Director Christopher Wray has said antisemitism in the U.S. has reached “historic levels” in the wake of violence in Israel and Gaza, with 60% of all religious-based hate crimes targeting Jewish people.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security already issues grants of up to $100,000 to houses of worship, day schools and nonprofits in major U.S. cities. President Joe Biden has proposed another $200 million in funding for the program, but religious groups have called for more funding.

The FEMA security program has already made about $274 million available in the current fiscal year, according to the agency. Last year FEMA dolled out more than $305 million in security grants for houses of worship.

Houses of worship will need to apply by May 21 to tap into the latest round of security funds, according to Schumer’s office.

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