Diocesan News

Churches Urged to Apply for Federal Anti-Terror Funds as Hate Crimes Rise

Retired Auxiliary Bishop Octavio Cisneros shows how thieves broke into the rectory at Holy Child Jesus Church in 2019. (Photo: Jorge I. Dominguez-Lopez)

WINDSOR TERRACE — “Religion is a basic American value. But it is under attack. There is a rise in hate crimes,” Congresswoman Grace Meng told religious leaders at a grant workshop she hosted on Feb. 10.

Churches are eligible to receive U.S. government funds to beef up security measures under an anti-terror grant program run by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Meng, whose district includes Bayside, Flushing, Forest Hills, Maspeth, Glendale, and Middle Village, encouraged religious institutions and nonprofits to apply.

Applicants must demonstrate that they are a potential terrorism target and are at high-risk. The grant funds can be used for things like security cameras, alarms, shatter-resistant glass, perimeter lighting, fencing, and bollards.

The next round of grants in the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) will be awarded in the fall. But first, religious institutions and nonprofit entities have to apply. FEMA is expected to release information on guidelines and deadlines on Feb. 21. 

In recent years, there have been several incidents in churches and schools in the diocese:

  • A vandal desecrated Our Lady of Guadalupe’s statue outside Our Lady of Solace Church, Coney Island, on Sept. 11, 2020.
  • In July, a vandal spray-painted on the Virgin Mary’s statue outside Cathedral Preparatory High School, Elmhurst.
  • In January of 2020, a vandal spray-painted graffiti on the doors of Sacred Heart of Jesus Academy, Bayside.
  • A vandal broke into the Shrine Church of Gerard Majella, Hollis, in September of 2019 and desecrated statues, destroyed the stations of the rosary, and toppled plants.
  • A battering ram was used to break into Holy Child Jesus Church’s rectory, Richmond Hill, in August of 2019. 
  • In February of 2018, a vandal invaded American Martyrs Church, Hollis, smashing sculptures of the Sacred Heart and the Virgin Mary in February 2018.
  • Mother Maria Amador, the founder, and mother superior, of the Preachers of Christ and Mary, was praying in the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph in Prospect Heights in July of 2017 when a man came into the church and threatened to kill her.

In Fiscal Year 2020, $90 million was made available for NSGP — $50 million of which went to urban areas. FEMA allocated $12.7 million for New York City. Meng said $1.7 million of that came into her district with 17 religious institutions and nonprofits receiving grants. “It really has been a game-changer for them,” she said.

Grants were capped at $100,000 apiece. The cap could change this year, officials said.

Father Christopher Heanue, administrator of Holy Child Jesus-St Benedict Joseph Labre parish, said he might consider applying for an NSGP grant. The church’s security cameras could use an upgrade and doors need to be replaced, he said. 

“I think all of our parishes, including mine, could benefit from better security,” Father Heanue said.

NSGP is a competitive grant program, meaning that not every applicant is awarded funding. The applications are first reviewed by the New York State Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, which checks the applicant’s eligibility and ensures the applicant has filled out the forms correctly.

The application has to be filled out carefully, according to Eric Abramson of the Homeland Security Division. “Use your full legal name, not the name you are known by in the community,” he told webinar attendees. The application must include a mission statement.

Applicants must also provide a security survey that lists soft-spots that terrorists could use to gain access.

Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, commander of the NYPD’s Crime Prevention Division, said religious institutions can call upon crime prevention officers in their local precincts to conduct security surveys. “It’s a 28-page survey. It’s really comprehensive,” she said.

Father Robert Mema, pastor of St. Kevin Church, Flushing, said he applied for an NSGP grant last year to get new security cameras. The church was turned down. 

“We were rejected because we weren’t in a high-crime area. But since that time, the neighborhood has seen an increase in burglaries,” he said, adding that he hopes to receive a grant this year.