HARRISBURG—The Pennsylvania legislature overwhelming passed a bill originally introduced by state Senator Andy Dinniman to provide grants for vital security and safety improvements to faith-based nonprofit organizations and those with diverse memberships.
“Pennsylvania has historically been a place of religious tolerance, liberty, and freedom of worship. Today, we reaffirmed those values – that regardless of faith or background, everyone deserves to feel safe in their place of worship,” Dinniman said.
The measure, originally introduced by Dinniman as part of a larger initiative (Senate Bill 676), establishes a $5 million Nonprofit Security Grant Fund to provide funding for safety and security improvements to facilities used by faith-based nonprofits.
Last week, the Senate amended it onto House Bill 859 and unanimously passed it. Today, the House overwhelmingly concurred to the Senate changes. It will now go to the governor for his signature.
“Just over a year ago, the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in our nation’s history took place right here in Pennsylvania,” Dinniman said. “We must never forget, but we also must act. And that is why we worked together across party lines to pass this bill. Because by standing up to protect the rights of freedom of religious expression, we’re protecting the right to worship of all.”
The proposed grant program, administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), would provide funding for security enhancements, including:
•Planning, threat awareness, and response training.
•Equipment and technology, such as metal detectors, lighting, surveillance, communications systems, locksets, deadbolts, trauma kits, and antitheft devices.
•Vulnerability and threat assessments.
•Other upgrades to existing structures that enhance safety and security.
Under the proposal, grant awards will range from a minimum of $5,000 to a maximum of $150,000. PCCD will select awardees in consultation with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and the Pennsylvania State Police.
Once signed in to law, the Nonprofit Security Grant Fund will begin accepting applications in March.
On October 27, 2018, 11 people were killed and seven were injured (including three police officers and the suspect) in a mass shooting during Shabbat morning services at the Tree of Life Congregation in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Robert Gregory Bowers was arrested and is currently in custody facing state and federal capital murder charges. According to police, after his arrest, he told them that he “wanted all Jews to die.”
The Tree of Life shooting followed similar hate-based attacks that have injured and killed worshipers at churches, temples, mosques, synagogues, and other houses of worship across the nation in recent years.