Two days after a deadly shooting at a California church, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to offer more security resources to religious communities.
Under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program Improvement Act, which passed the House on Tuesday, the amount of money available each year for houses of worship, faith-based schools and other nonprofits to use for safety improvements would double and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which manages the funds, would create an office tasked with boosting participation in the program.
The bill is now being considered by the Senate. Even if it passes, the House and Senate Appropriations committees will have final say on the program’s annual budget, which currently stands at $250 million, according to a statement on the bill’s passage from the Orthodox Union.
“This weekend’s tragic attack upon a Southern California church is just the latest in assaults on communities of faith. We as a nation must do more to protect all people of faith,” Orthodox Union President Mark Bane said in the statement. He noted that Jewish communities “have suffered greatly” in recent years due to attacks on houses of worship.
The attack on Irvine Taiwanese Presbyterian Church in Laguna Hills, California, left one person dead and five people wounded. The shooter, who has been charged with murder, attempted murder and other crimes, allegedly targeted the faith community due to a bias against Taiwan.
“While there’s very strong evidence right now that this was motivated by hate, we want to make sure we have put together all the evidence that confirms that theory in the case,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer to The Associated Press.
The article noted that federal authorities are also pursuing a hate crime investigation.
Under federal law, hate crimes are defined as crimes motived by a bias against the victim’s or victims’ “perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or disability,” according to a hate crimes fact sheet from the U.S. Department of Justice. They typically involve violent acts, such as murder or arson, but someone can be prosecuted for a hate crime even if they’ve only plotted an attack.
“Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, people cannot be prosecuted simply for their beliefs. ... However, the First Amendment does not protect against committing a crime, just because the conduct is rooted in philosophical beliefs,” the factsheet said.
Each year, the FBI releases an overview of hate crimes data voluntarily shared with the federal government by law enforcement agencies across the country. None of the reports are a complete record of the 12 months they cover, since some agencies don’t share their findings and many victims of bias-related incidents never alert the police.
“Experts estimate an average of 250,000 hate crimes were committed each year between 2004 and 2015 in the United States. The majority of these were not reported to law enforcement,” according to the Justice Department.
For its annual reports, the FBI analyzes data it does receive to reveal the reasons people were victimized and where the attacks took place, among other things. If the California church attack is eventually classified as a hate crime, it could be included in the FBI’s hate crimes report for 2022.
Here are some of the faith-related findings included in the 2020 report, which the FBI released in August 2021:
- Around 3% of the hate crimes included in the report took place in churches, synagogues, temples or mosques. The most common location for hate crimes in 2020 (and in most other years) was personal residences or homes (28.9%.)
- Religious bias was recorded as the motivation for 13.3% of the hate crimes. Racial, ethnic or ancestry-related bias motivated more than 6 in 10.
- The total number of religiously motivated single-bias incidents was notably lower in 2020 (1,244) than it was in 2019 (1,521.)
- Jews were the most common target of religiously motivated hate crimes in 2020. They were victimized in around 1,000 incidents. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were at the center of fewer than 10.