Photo: Ben Lambert / Hearst Connecticut Media
In what should be centers of safety and security, a worldwide increase in violence has shown that houses of worship can also be targets of hate.
Among the high-profile incidents in recent years are the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018 that left 11 people dead and was called the worst act of anti-Semitic violence in American history; an assault on a New Zealand mosque that killed 50 people; and another synagogue attack in Poway, Calif., just last month that killed one person while wounding several others. All are considered hate crimes and are part of a disturbing trend.
Closer to home came news this week that a fire at New Haven’s Diyanet Mosque that left the building uninhabitable had been intentionally set. While no one was hurt, and the motive behind the arson is unclear, it fits into a pattern that has seen churches, synagogues and mosques facing new threats, spreading the feeling that no place is secure from possible violence.
The numbers back up those fears. The Anti-Defamation League released a report recently showing that the number of Jewish people targeted in anti-Semitic assaults had tripled last year. The FBI has noted a marked increase in hate crimes from a year earlier, led by growing attacks against racial and religious minorities.
In response to the New Haven fire and to a string of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in 2017, state legislators have proposed to include $5 million in the state bonding package for increased safety measures at houses of worship. Leaders of religious institutions would be able to apply for a portion of the money by making a case for how it could be spent. Ideas include security cameras or bulletproof glass.
No one wants to be in this situation. “We’ve come to a point where the places that are a source of harmony, a source of comfort and tranquillity have become places where people go with fear,” state Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said in response to the debate.
Still, it’s a necessary step, and one that other states are taking, as well. California recently moved to appropriate $15 million for security at religious institutions across the state, and other programs are in the works nationwide.
This comes in the context of Connecticut looking to rein in its borrowing; Gov. Ned Lamont calls it his “debt diet.” Whatever the merits of that idea, $5 million is a small amount in comparison with the sums the state routinely bonds, and the governor’s plans should not affect this call for increased safety measures.
There is no plan that will provide perfect security, and no state action is going to deter people who have their hearts set on destruction and hate. But while we look to build a world where such terror has no place, we must do what we can to keep people safe. Extra security at houses of worship is necessary, and the state should provide the funds to make it happen.