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Religious, Community Groups Get State Gift of Security

By Sarah Abruzzese
Capital News Service
Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2005

ANNAPOLIS - The governor announced $1.5 million in new security-related funds for 34, mostly religious, nonprofit organizations on Wednesday.

The bulk of the grant money -- $1 million from the Baltimore Urban Area Security Initiative -- is to be spent on better surveillance equipment, barriers and other security measures and is intended mostly for organizations in central Maryland.

The remaining $500,000 in grant money is to be spent statewide and will come from the state's Homeland Security Program.

"Any place evildoers can do harm is a front" in the war on terrorism, said Gov. Robert Ehrlich, also explaining why the money is earmarked for the various religious, public safety and cultural groups.

"Unfortunately the defense of terrorism traditionally has been looking at your weak spots," Ehrlich told the group of religious leaders and county executives at the State House news conference.

The executive director of Beth Israel Congregation in Baltimore said there is a real threat, but nonprofits are at a disadvantage when it comes to protecting themselves.

"We don't have the money to do what should be done," David Rothenberg said.

The money comes after Ehrlich learned in 2003 of a threat to a Jewish girls' day school in Baltimore. A Saudi national was seen videotaping the school.

The idea coalesced on a trip to Israel later that year, when Ehrlich realized the Israelis have been protecting community groups for years, a spokesman for the Governor's office of Homeland Security, Jim Pettit said.

Such threats to religious institutions are of great concern to the community, Rothenberg said.

"From our standpoint, it is not just the congregation, but our neighbors, who are at risk," Rothenberg said.

Beth Israel President Steve Silfen added that security is needed to protect the children who go to school there and the community groups who use the space.

The security funds make Silfen feel confident, "to know state and local government are behind our protection."

But, Silfin said, more money is needed from the federal government to increase police presence.

Baltimore Jewish Council Executive Director Arthur Abramson has been working with the governor and his staff on security funding.

"Certainly there is no better friend to Israel and the Jewish community than Governor Ehrlich," Abramson said.

More than half the recipients are Jewish non-profits because the plan was originally conceived to protect such groups, Pettit said.

A volunteer fire department in Harford County received funds, as did organizations in Baltimore County, Howard County, Annapolis and Baltimore City.

Although only one Muslim institution received funds, the director of the Maryland Muslim Council is pleased with Ehrlich's move.

"We are very optimistic and very supportive because he is reaching out," Shahab Qarni said. "It is good to see a community come together under his leadership."

"My job is to protect the state of Maryland," Ehrlich said.

Harford County Executive James Harkins attended the announcement with other executives who are part of a work group to address security needs. He talked about the need to ensure religious groups' safety.

"At this time in our country, religious intolerance is something we see every day," he said. "Freedom to practice religion is paramount in a free society."


Copyright 2005 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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