Protecting Faith Communities

Protecting Faith Communities

“Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it”  — Talmud
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” John 15:13
“There is no compulsion in faith... Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion” — Quran

In 2019, in our own backyard we witnessed more than an act of terror at the Chabad synagogue in Poway. We witnessed what is now becoming a chilling pattern of bloody attacks on places of worship across our community, country and the world. Over the span of a week, San Diego County lost a Lakeside resident killed in Sri Lanka during the Easter Sunday attacks on Christian churches. A mosque in Escondido was burned, and then the fatal shooting  at the Poway synagogue by the same assailant.  A sixty year old mother, wife and friend, Lori Kaye, sacrificed her own life to save the life of her rabbi in the latest deadly attack.

This rising tide of hate against people of all faiths and in places of worship must be stopped in its tracks — and stopped now. Today. Our country was founded in the noble notion that people are free to worship and is one that respects people of all faiths and creeds. America has always valued the sanctity of religion and the sanctuary of places of worship and the right of every American to practice their faith or not, and to do so in safety and peace.

But this ugly new pattern of attacks in our country that has emerged over the last few years is cause for reflection and deep concern for every person and every community across San Diego, the state, and our nation. Even with our deep partisan and cultural divides, we must come together to agree that places of worship should in every circumstance, be safe havens from hate and violence.

If we are to ensure that we can protect communities of faith, then we need to protect the very places where communities practice their faith. That means we need strong leadership — right now — to offer solutions and take innovative and bold legislative action.

That is why I am outlining a bill  I will work to pass as one of my first acts in Congress. It’s called The Safety for American Communities of Faith through Education (SAFE) Act.

The SAFE Act will protect communities of faith through four key legislative initiatives.

Require tech companies to disable foreign and domestic terrorists from using social media to radicalize and recruit online

We have seen the role that social media has played in recent attacks on communities of faith — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and others —over the last several months. The legislation will work collaboratively with tech companies to prevent the propagation of terrorism and hate-based violence online.

For example, former Youtube engineer Guillaume Chaslot worked on the sites recommendation algorithm and found that the videos being recommended were often times more intense, extreme, inflammatory, and promoted conspiracy theories. These are the unintended consequences of algorithms that draw viewers to click and spend more time on a site, which serves the business interests of search engines but also poses a threat to public safety if left unchecked.

Fund mental health investment in diseases of despair, including putting more counselors in schools.

Many of the perpetrators of these heinous acts suffer from previously identified debilitating mental illnesses that in many cases should have required acute care. Treating these individuals could have prevented them from committing these acts.

Create a curriculum for religious studies and counter-extremism in early education.

In order to teach understanding of our multi-faith culture, the legislation would direct the Department of Education to work with local school districts to develop a curriculum that our schools could use to teach the principles of religious pluralism upon which our country is founded.

Higher penalties and mandatory sentences for committing terrorist acts of violence against places of worship.

Finally, we must amend 18 U.S. Code 247, the Damage to Religious Property and Obstruction of Persons in the Free Exercise of their Religious Beliefs Act, to substantially increase fines, and stiffen criminal penalties for acts of violence in places of worship.

I was born and raised in the East County. My mother and I worshiped for decades at a Christian church. To help make ends meet, I swept the floors for years at that same church. One of the many reasons I love America is because the Bill of Rights in its very first clause, guarantees the freedom of religion to all of us.  I will stand up to anyone who violates that clause and I will continue to work to bring people together, unified in our uniquely American resolve, to protect communities of faith — Christian, Jew, Muslim, and people of all faiths to exercise their right to worship in freedom, safety and peace.

These are just some of the uncontroversial bipartisan measures that Congress and the President can act on now to save lives as we debate more contentious pieces of legislation.