A bipartisan group of lawmakers joined with faith leaders as they rolled out a $5 million plan to provide funding to help protect houses of worship across Connecticut from violent attacks.
“It has come to a point that places that are a source of harmony, that are a source of comfort and tranquility has become a place where people go with fear,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, (D – South Windsor), of the proposal.
The program would closely resemble the school security grant program put in place following the shooting at Sandy Hook. Houses of worship would have to provide details on what security and safety upgrades they would spend a grant on, and in some cases they would need to provide matching funds in order to secure the grant.
Following a shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and California, and most recently an alleged arson fire in New Haven at a mosque, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle feel it is the state’s responsibility to keep those institutions safe.
Rep. Themis Klarides, (R – Derby), said, “I don’t care what party you are. I don’t care where you live, what gender, what religion, if you worship or you do not, this is something that cannot be tolerated in our state. This is something that we personally cannot tolerate and I think we need to do to make sure that we are doing our part.”
When asked if security has been a main issue for worshipers, Khamis Abdu-Hasaballah, president of the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center said, “I can’t tell you how many calls and emails I got from members about security. They want police presence all the time, they want cameras, locked doors, which really goes against our philosophy of our openness and allowing anyone to come in to pray, so it is a tough tough position to be in right now trying to balance security with openness.”
The funds will be considered as part of the larger budget package. Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat, had proposed what he called, a “debt diet,” as a way to curb the state’s borrowing costs. A spokeswoman for the governor did not respond to a request for comment on the proposal.
Judy Alperin, president of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven, said help from the state is vital considering they’ve seen their donations decrease in recent years.
“We’re living in an era of declining philanthropy,” she said. “The financial pressures that are all living across our state, the economic reality that we’re living in, extends to philanthropy.”
With bipartisan support, and top Democrats supporting this measure, even if Gov. Lamont is wary of the idea, Sen. Martin Looney, (D – New Haven), the top member of the Senate said, “this is a tough issue to oppose.”