RELIGION

State offers houses of worship more money to help prevent attacks

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Across the globe, houses of worship increasingly have become targets of terrorism the last few years. The Interfaith Advisory Council was founded in 2012 to discuss issues including security. Its most recent meeting took place at a mandir in Robbinsville. The director of New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness Jared Maples says it’s the first time a sitting-governor has attended one since its founding.

“I know there is real fear, I cannot ignore that there is real fear in this room. There is a sense that perhaps we have opened our eyes to a world that is not as tolerant as we believed it was,” Gov. Phil Murphy said.

The state Homeland Security office hosts the council meetings to hear from the leaders of houses of worship and to have them channel fear and concern into real action. It won’t quantify the threats or suspicious activity against houses and people of faith in the state, but urged them to call 911 even if a stranger outside is taking pictures of their buildings.

At the Interfaith Advisory Council meeting, the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness announced it has even more money for houses of worship so they can prepare for and perhaps even prevent attacks.

The Murphy administration is increasing the amount in a nonprofit security grant program from $800,000 to $1 million to go beyond providing just security guards but actually funding security camera systems and locks and more with grants up to $50,000. The Homeland Security Office would not say how many grants have been applied for or approved but urges faith leaders to apply.

Imam Farhan Siddiqi of Muslim Community of New Jersey Masjid in Fords says his mosque received a death threat a year ago. It’s one reason he’s a member of the Interfaith Advisory Council, which has grown from 150 members to more than 3,000.