By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — With the incidence of hate crimes rising in Maryland and around the country, a state grant program is now accepting applications from religious congregations that want to boost security.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced the Protecting Religious Institutions Grant program as part of his budget in January. Applications for the grants are now available to houses of worship of all faiths.
Howard Libit, executive director of the Baltimore Jewish Council, said after shootings at synagogues and mosques around the country in recent years, the rise in religious hate crimes is a real concern.
Congregations in Maryland have beefed up security by offering training, adding security cameras and reinforcing doors. And Libet said, most have opted to add security personnel.
“To have, for example, an armed guard or armed off-duty officer just for a few hours a week during Shabbat services – Friday night, Saturday morning – it’s tens of thousands of dollars a year,” Libet said. “It’s a major expense.”
In 2017, 183 hate-crime incidents were reported to the police and verified in Maryland, according to the state’s 2017 Hate/Bias Crime Report. Of those, 44 were based on religion. That means the incidence of verified religious bias crimes nearly tripled from 2016 when there were only 15.
The Maryland report said 29 hate-crime incidents in 2017 were anti-Jewish and 12 were anti-Muslim.
Libit said having to increase security is a balancing act for houses of worship, which are caught between needing to protect worshipers and wanting to be accessible to the entire community.
“Houses of worship are supposed to be welcoming. We don’t want to be in a situation where we’re setting up metal detectors to go attend services, or to have to show ID or to have to prove you’re a member,” he said. “A house of worship wants to be welcoming of anyone who wants to attend and join services.”
During the 2019 legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill expanding the state’s definition of a hate crime to include threats, which would be charged as a misdemeanor.
The Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention aims to give out $3 million in security grants, which will be awarded on a rolling basis.