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These faith leaders are part of a new government push to protect houses of worship

The Department of Homeland Security announced this week that it had “reinvigorated” a faith-based council

SHARE These faith leaders are part of a new government push to protect houses of worship

Michelle Budge, Deseret News

The Department of Homeland Security has unveiled 25 new appointees to its Faith-Based Security Advisory Council, including a Latter-day Saint security expert, a prominent Latino evangelical pastor and a Black civil rights activist with celebrity status.

The group will partner with DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas to protect houses of worship from violence, according to a Sept. 19 press release.

“These prominent faith and law enforcement leaders will help us build and strengthen the community partnerships that are so vital to our mission success,” Mayorkas said in a statement. “We will work together to increase access to our services, ensure equity, maintain openness and transparency, and fully restore the trust of the communities we serve.”

Although the council is not new, it needed to be “reinvigorated,” the press release said. The 25 appointees will help address rising violence against religious organizations, including arson attacks on churches and synagogue shootings.

“The council’s contributions will enhance the department’s work to protect houses of worship; improve coordination and information sharing of threat information with the faith community, and ... increase access to DHS resources,” the press release said.

The new appointees include the Rev. Al Sharpton, a famous civil rights leader who is founded the National Action Network; Todd Richins, field operations division director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ church security department; Kiran Kaur Gill, executive director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund; and the Rev. Gabriel Salguero, president of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition.


Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas appears at the first meeting of the interagency Task Force on Reproductive Healthcare Access in the Indian Treaty Room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House Campus in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022.

Susan Walsh, Associated Press

In the press release, DHS officials emphasized their effort to invite leaders from a wide range of religious and ethnic backgrounds to take part in the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council.

“The council’s membership reflects President (Joe) Biden and Secretary Mayorkas’ priorities on diversity, equity and inclusion,” the release said. “The members announced today represent various faith communities and a diversity of denominations, including from the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim and Sikh communities, as well as law enforcement.”

Some of the new appointees spoke with Religion News Service about how they hope to shape the government’s response to faith-related violence. The solution isn’t always throwing more money at law enforcement, said Rabbi Jonah Dov Pesner, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

“There’s a real danger of overpolicing and of policing in such a way that does harm to communities of color that have historically been on the wrong end of overpolicing,” the rabbi said to Religion News Service. “We have to be thoughtful and sensitive to all those who are suffering from violence and make sure policing and security are appropriate to the threat.”

Among other tasks, members of the council will have the opportunity to improve existing government programs and ensure that officials understand the perspective of people of faith across the country.

“Members of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council will provide valuable insight that will benefit our stakeholders nationwide,” said Brenda Abdelall, the assistant secretary for partnership and engagement at DHS, in the press release.

The release noted that new council members will meet virtually for the first time on Oct. 6.