DHS Considering Protections to Prevent Violence Against Places of Worship

By Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan
Janita Kan is a reporter based in New York covering the Justice Department, courts, and First Amendment.
January 4, 2020Updated: January 5, 2020

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is considering a list of recommendations focused on preventing violence against faith-based communities, after a spate of attacks at synagogues, churches, and other places of worship.

Acting DHS Secretary Chad Wolf has asked agency heads, in a memorandum obtained by media outlets, to come up with a plan to bolster security at places of worship and protect faith-based groups from violent targeted attacks.

“Houses of worship and faith-based organizations dedicate resources to local communities and often serve as social and moral beacons people rely on in times of both joy and need. The right to practice religion free of interference or fear is one of our nations most fundamental and indelible rights,” Wolf wrote in his memo, sent on Jan. 2.
“As such, the targeting of houses of worship by violent extremists of any ideology is particularly abhorrent and must be prevented.”
The recommendations are part of a Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) report (pdf), which was attached to Wolf’s memo, which looks at DHS’s role in preventing and mitigating the attacks. In May 2019, then-acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin McAleenan asked HSAC to set up a subcommittee to review the security of faith-based organizations across the country.
The subcommittee, co-chaired by John R. Allen, president of Brookings Institute, and Paul Goldenberg, president and CEO of Cardinal Point Strategies, was asked to review the sharing of information between the DHS and faith-based organizations, evaluate protective efforts for faith-based communities, evaluate the role of faith-based communities in preventative efforts, and look at the impacts of violent extremists and domestic terrorists.
As part of their review, the subcommittee said they conducted seven site visits to places of worship across the nation, held in-person meetings and conference calls, and was also briefed by over 100 experts.
The report was finalized and submitted in December 2019, just days before a violent stabbing attack at a rabbi’s home in New York and a shooting at a Texas church.
The report outlines a range of findings and measures that could help improve the preparedness, communication, and funding of DHS and faith-based organizations in the event of an attack.
The recommendations in the 2019 report include designating a central point of contact within DHS for faith-based groups, creating a package approach to security for faith-based organizations, encourage faith-based organizations to work with law enforcement develop real-time information sharing systems, and seek additional funding from Congress to provide increased security grant money for faith-based organizations.
The report also references two similar reports made in 2012 and 2014 containing relevant recommendations that helped the subcommittee come to their conclusions in the new report. The subcommittee said although recommendations were made several years ago, “there is no evidence any of the recommendations were acted upon.”
“With this the third report of this nature, and in view of the urgency of our moment, and the imprimatur of this Subcommittee, this report should be converted into an implementation plan at the earliest possible moment for the systematic adoption of the actionable recommendations,” the subcommittee advised the department.
Some law enforcement has also responded with its own measures following the church attack in Texas. Fort Worth police posted on Twitter that Chief Ed Kraus is encouraging officers to wear their uniforms when attending places of worship.
“In the wake of the local attack on the West Freeway Church of Christ last Sunday, as well as the attacks on Jewish communities and church services nationally, Chief Kraus is authorizing and encouraging our officers who attend worship services to do so in full police uniform,” the post said.
A man shot at congregants attending a service at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas, on Dec. 29, 2019, killing two people. The suspect, Keith Thomas Kinnunen, was shot and killed by a member of the church’s security team.