Biden Admin Gives Preferential Treatment for Security Grants to Churches and Synagogues in 'Disadvantaged' Communities

Biden admin awards 'bonus' points to certain nonprofits to promote 'equity'

Joe Biden in Emanuel AME Church (Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
July 3, 2024

The Biden administration's grant program to protect houses of worship against terrorist attacks gives preferential treatment to organizations deemed to be in disadvantaged communities, part of President Joe Biden's controversial initiative to infuse "equity" into every federal agency.

The Department of Homeland Security will award $434 million this year through its Nonprofit Security Grant Program, which provides up to $150,000 in taxpayer funds to individual synagogues, mosques, and churches to help fortify against terrorist attacks. Nearly a third of that $434 million came through the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2024, which Congress passed in response to Hamas's Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel.

The agency factors the risk of terrorist attacks and each organization's plans to prevent attacks into its award decisions, which are based on a 40-point scoring system. But it also gives priority to houses of worship based on factors with no apparent connection to terrorism.

To "advance considerations of equity" in the grant program, DHS awards 10 "bonus" points to nonprofits located in census tracts deemed to be "disadvantaged" by the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool, a metric that the administration adopted to identify "communities that are marginalized, underserved, and overburdened by pollution." And in the event of scoring ties, the agency gives preference to organizations in disadvantaged areas, according to federal documents.

Rep. Ken Calvert (R., Calif.), who introduced the Israel security bill that supplements the Homeland Security grants, criticized the administration's reliance on equity metrics for a program intended in part to protect Jewish communities from a "dramatic rise" in anti-Semitic attacks.

"Congress intended to respond to these specific threats to Jewish Americans when it provided increased funding for the nonprofit security grants program in the Israel Security Supplemental Appropriations Act," Calvert told the Washington Free Beacon. "The Biden Administration should award these funds for the purposes in which they were intended and help provide security assistance for Jewish Americans."

While numerous Jewish groups have received grants through the program, some synagogues that have been targeted in high-profile attacks would not receive preferential treatment under the Department of Homeland Security's scoring system. Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue, the site of a 2018 mass shooting in which 11 worshippers were murdered, does not lie in a "disadvantaged" area, according to the Climate & Economic Justice Sorting Tool. Nor does Adas Torah, the Los Angeles synagogue where anti-Israel protesters attacked congregants at a protest on June 23.

It's part of the administration's Justice40 initiative, which requires agencies to provide 40 percent of funding to disadvantaged communities to correct "inequities and injustices to improve the health and well-being of communities across our country."

The initiative has come under scrutiny for providing grants that appear far removed from the goal of implementing "environmental justice." It allocates $48 million for an "equitable National Park System" and $150 million to NASA to foster "engagement of underserved populations, including underserved students and people of color."

According to James Meigs, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, the administration's reliance on Justice40 and the Climate & Economic Justice Sorting Tool as a factor for anti-terrorism grants shows the willingness to "put aside real-world assessment of risk."

"The fact that the administration is using environmental justice policies to direct homeland security funding shows that the whole environmental justice apparatus was never really about the environment," said Meigs, who noted that Jewish groups are facing an uptick in terrorist threats after October 7. "It's just another way to steer federal funding to the groups activists see as more deserving."

It is unclear how many grants Homeland Security has awarded to organizations in disadvantaged communities and how many have lost out on funding due to a lack of "bonus" points. Homeland Security did not respond to a request for comment. But the agency has awarded millions of dollars in previous years to mosques that preach anti-Israel rhetoric, many of which are located in "disadvantaged areas."

The Islamic Society of Detroit, whose imam prayed to Allah to "eradicate" the "sick, disgusting Zionist regime," received a grant under the DHS program in October 2022, the Free Beacon reported. The mosque is in a census tract that the Climate & Economic Justice Sorting Tool deems "disadvantaged."

The imam of the Islamic Center of Hawthorne, which received $150,000 through the program on Feb. 9, has preached about "the malevolence of the Jews" and expressed concern that "weak Muslims" are "affected by the media of the Jews." The mosque is located in a "disadvantaged" census tract, according to the Climate & Economic Justice Screening Tool.

In October, an Islamic scholar at the Flint Islamic Center, the recipient of a $300,000 grant, asserted that Jews "literally live for the purpose of genocide" against Palestinians.

According to Meigs, the Biden administration has not provided clear guidance about its use of the Climate & Economic Justice Sorting Tool.

"From the start the Biden administration has been very expansive yet vague about what programs/types of spending would fall under the environmental justice umbrella," he told the Free Beacon. "Any pretext that this has anything to do with the environment is long gone."