U.S. weighs security aid to nonprofits

Congress considers funds

church-state issues raised

April 17, 2004|By Rick Jervis | Rick Jervis,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

A proposal to use federal funds to help synagogues, churches and other nonprofit groups beef up security is being lauded by some as needed relief in the expensive business of preparing for domestic terrorism.

But critics of a measure recently introduced in both the Senate and House say the initiative comes uncomfortably close to breaching First Amendment separation of church and state.

Alarmed by the spate of violence targeted at synagogues and Jewish centers around the world in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, lawmakers say the High-Risk Non-Profit Security Enhancement Act is a responsible reply to rising security costs at churches and synagogues. The bill would provide up to $100 million for security-enhancement work, such as installing concrete barriers and hardening windows and doors.

Framers of the bill point to last year's terrorist blasts at synagogues in Casablanca and Istanbul, which killed more than 30, and the recent firebombing of a Jewish school in Montreal as evidence that Jewish centers and synagogues are at risk.

"You have to assume that the local synagogue or church or Red Cross could be a target," said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat who is the bill's main sponsor.

The bill proposes distributing the money to pre-approved contractors, who would then do the security work, to avoid constitutional concerns about government funding of any religion.

But the proposal's obvious intent of protecting synagogues and other Jewish centers that could be targeted by terrorists is a veiled attempt at direct federal funding to religious institutions, said Ivan Eland, an analyst with the Independent Institute, a think tank in Oakland.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing paper.

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