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West Hartford and South Windsor Legislators Lead Bipartisan Plan to Boost Security at Religious Institutions

From left: Republican House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, Democratic State Sen. Derek Slap, Republican State Sen. George Logan, and Democratic State Sen. Dr. Saud Anwar. Courtesy photo

State Senators Derek Slap of West Hartford and Saud Anwar of South Windsor are leading a bipartisan proposal to secure $5 million in bond funding to boost security at synagogues, mosques, and churches throughout the state.

By Ronni Newton

After a rash of recent incidents targeting religious institutions around the world, including an arson incident at the Diyanet Mosque in New Haven just a few days ago, State Sen. Derek Slap of West Hartford and State Sen. Saud Anwar of South Windsor are leading a bipartisan group of Connecticut lawmakers in calling for $5 million in bonding to help fund security measures at state houses of worship.

Slap and Anwar joined Jewish, Muslim, and Christian faith leaders Tuesday, as well as legislators from both parties, in support of the proposal. Rabbi Tuvia Brander from Young Israel of West Hartford was among the faith leaders who spoke in favor of including the “houses of worship security bonding plan” in Senate Bill 876, the 2019 state bonding bill.

According to Slap, the enhanced security measures to be funded would include “remote door entry systems, video monitoring systems, and shatterproof windows,” similar to systems installed in schools throughout the state in the years since the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012 that were supported by the School Security Competitive Grant Program.

“We’re seeing a lot of attacks on Jewish, Muslim and some Christian churches across America, and some right here in Connecticut. These attacks strike at the heart of our social fabric, tearing at people’s faith in the very places where they should feel secure and at peace,” said Slap in a statement. “It’s rather sad, but I know many houses of worship are now reacting to increased acts of violence in the same way that public schools did after Columbine and Sandy Hook. So we’re coming together today, regardless of political party, regardless of religious belief, to try and provide some comfort to the people of Connecticut. It’s critical people not feel intimidated when they go to church or synagogue or mosque to live their faith.”

Slap said it’s sad, but “absolutely necessary” to talk about taking such measures at religious institutions.

“We don’t yet have all the facts and details regarding the arson attack in New Haven, but no one should feel unsafe or unwelcome in their place of worship,” said Anwar in a statement. “Churches, synagogues, mosques and temples are pillars of our communities where people gather, joining together as one. In this current environment, where religious groups may feel threatened, this bonding will create a sense of resiliency and protection. Irrespective of the situation in New Haven, we must show everyone in our community that we are strong, and join together as one people.”

Religious leaders would be able to apply for a portion of the $5 million as early as July to fund specific security measures.

A federal investigation has been launched into the arson fire at the Diyanet Mosque, which was rendered uninhabitable after the blaze. No one was injured in the incident, which occurred during the holy month of Ramadan.

Other incidents have taken place in the state as well, including bomb threats called into Jewish community centers in West Hartford and Woodbridge in January 2017 amid a nationwide hoax, and just this March someone threatened to burn down the Muhammad Islamic Center of Greater Hartford, frightening its members with racial and homophobic epithets.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 39 anti-Semitic incidents in Connecticut in 2018, including 19 instances of harassment, 19 acts of vandalism, and one assault. There were 49 total acts in 2017, 38 acts in 2016, and 26 acts in 2015.

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – an Alabama-based nonprofit which monitors the actions of domestic hate groups and extremists, notes on its website that there are multiple hate groups operating in the state, including two chapters of the anti-Muslim group Act for America, the neo-Nazi group The Daily Stormer, and the white nationalist movement Identity Evropa.

Portions of a Connecticut Mirror story by Jenna Carlesso were included in this story.

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