Advocates for the Orthodox community are optimistic that Federal Security grants for non-profits, heavily used by Jewish institutions, will be renewed at the record $60 million funding level achieved last year.
As the recent mass shooting in Pittsburgh is still fresh in the nation’s memory, the grants have garnered wider support than ever, both in Washington and from Jewish groups. Yet the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) remains opposed to the funding, the creation of which it likewise opposed.
Nathan Diament, the Orthodox Union’s (OU) executive director for public policy, said that the ADL’s position is more difficult to understand than ever before.
“The Pittsburgh shooting has underscored the importance of making these resources available to shuls and other non-profits, given the troubling reality of the world. It’s extremely disappointing that the ADL remains opposed to the program,” he told Hamodia.
When the grant program was first passed in 2004, several liberal Jewish groups opposed the bill, citing concerns with government funds going to religious institutions. Since its enactment, however, many of those same groups have dropped their opposition and have even become beneficiaries of the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP).
In the wake of the Pittsburgh shooting, the Reform movement, which had previously encouraged its members to refuse the grants, has reversed course and has been providing guidance to its institutions on applications to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees the funds.
The ADL did not respond to a request for comment from Hamodia.
While the ADL, a century-old organization created to fight anti-Semitism, has not actively lobbied against the steady increases that have been made in the program since its passage, in a recent Jerusalem Post article, the group reiterated its opposition to the grants, citing “constitutional and policy concerns.”
For decades, courts and legislators largely stood in the way of direct funding for religious institutions, even for secular purposes such as security or other safety measures. More recently, legislation on both the state and federal level has provided funding for services seen as neutral, a move largely backed by the courts. Last year, the Supreme Court said that the state of Missouri was in the wrong for denying a program that paid for rubber padding in the playground of a preschool on the grounds of its affiliation with the Trinity Lutheran church. A brief submitted by the OU said that the state’s position on the matter placed security funding in jeopardy, a point that was quoted by Justice Samuel Alito.
“There has clearly been a shift in the jurisprudence on this, and the ADL is more out of step with the constitutional reality than ever,” said Mr. Diament.
A spokesperson for the ADL told the Jerusalem Post that they felt the program lacks the “necessary constitutional and anti-discrimination safeguards.”
Rabbi Abba Cohen, Vice President for Federal Affairs for the Agudath Israel of America said that the recent Supreme Court decision in the Trinity Lutheran case was clear support for programs like the NSGP.
“I never felt that the groups that opposed this were justified on constitutional grounds, but now their position has become dramatically weaker,” he told Hamodia. “This is a public safety issue. The fire department can’t say that it can’t respond to a fire at a church because it’s a religious institution. Now the court has said clearly that you’re not allowed to discriminate against an organization just because it’s religious.”
The grant program was originally enacted in 2005, largely at the urging of Jewish lobbying groups, as part of a national post-9/11 response to heightened domestic terror threats. The allocation was set at $25 million at the time but was gradually decreased to $10 million. While the funding level has been steadily increased since then, the program was never formally authorized, partially as a result of the original split among Jewish groups over the NSPG.
The program is open to non-profits who meet certain criteria, foremost of which is a reason to believe that they are at risk. NSGP is open to all non-profits, but a very large percentage of the grants have been awarded to Jewish institutions.