Aurora lawmakers champion security funding for churches, nonprofit groups

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The Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora is one of the nonprofits that would benefit from the nonprofit security grant program that became law this week. Photo by Philip B. Poston/Sentinel Colorado

AURORA | A law passed in the final week of Colorado’s legislative session gives religious organizations and other nonprofit organizations more money for security upgrades, something that advocates say is a necessity in an era of increasing hate crimes.

The Colorado Nonprofit Security Grant Program was sponsored by Aurora-area Reps. Iman Jodeh and Dafna Michaelson Jenet, and Sens. Kevin Priola and Chris Hansen.

The federal government provides grant money to organizations considered to be at high risk of a terrorist attack to pay for security upgrades. The new law will create a similar program at the state level for Colorado organizations that qualified for the federal program but did not receive grant money.

According to the bill text, last year 51 organizations in Colorado applied for the grant but only 10 were approved. From 2019 to 2020, the bill said that hate crimes in Colorado increased by 22.3%.

The law designates $500,000 from the state’s general fund toward the program for the 2022-2023 fiscal year. Grant recipients can use the money for new security infrastructure, upgrades to existing features and security-related training and personnel.

Jodeh, Colorado’s first Muslim lawmaker, said that she believes bigoted rhetoric from politicians over the past years has increasingly given constituents permission to act in violent ways toward minority groups.

“There are three or four mosques in my district and all of them unfortunately have fallen victim to things that have motivated this bill to pass,” Jodeh said.

She noted that Aurora is especially suited to benefit from the law because it is one of the most diverse places in the state.

Over 50 different religious groups and other organizations voiced support for the bill, including the Anti-Defamation League Mountain States branch, LGBTQ organization Center on Colfax and the Interfaith Alliance of Colorado.

Some organizations that received money from the federal program in the past testified at the legislature about how helpful it had been for them, Jodeh said.

Harry Budisidharta, executive director of the Asian Pacific Development Center in Aurora, said that the center supported the bill because the Asian-American community has experienced a rise in hate crimes since the start of the pandemic.

The APDC has received several threats but luckily no actual attacks, he said. He knows of several nonprofits serving refugees in the Aurora area that have experienced vandalism.

With money from the grant program, the APDC would be able to make security upgrades to its building that it has not been able to afford, Budisidharta said, including putting in more security cameras and better outside lighting.

It’s often difficult for nonprofits to pay for physical infrastructure upgrades because there are few grants available for the purpose and it’s not something that attracts donations, Budisidharta said.

“Most donors, whether it’s foundations or individuals, prefer to pay for services rather than capital improvements,” he said.

Jenet, who is Jewish, said that the hostage situation at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas in January spurred her to try and get the law passed.

The current federal grants don’t go far enough, she said, and put minority organizations in a position where they’re all competing for the same funding.

“We all deserve to have a safe place to pray and to send our children,” Jenet said.

According to a 2021 audit of antisemitic incidents by the Anti Defamation League, Colorado ranked 8th in the nation, with 92 reported incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism.

“That’s scary to the community,” Jenet said. “We’re not sure why hate crimes have increased so much, we don’t have the answers to that, but we do know what we need to keep our houses of worship and our schools safe.”

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