Faith leaders back county protection bill

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Legislation proposed by Nassau County Legislator Arnold Drucker requiring Nassau County Police to patrol houses of worship was answered with a chorus of near-unanimous support, as local clergy and elected officials weighed in.

Rabbi Moshe Weisblum, of Wantagh’s Congregation Beth Tikvah, said the measure would have his unqualified support. The synagogue serves the conservative Jewish community of Seaford and Wantagh.

“Making people feel safe in their respective houses of worship is a step in the right direction,” Weisblum said. “Any action taken to alleviate this national crisis of fear and insecurity is welcome.”

Rabbi Ronald Androphy, of the East Meadow Jewish Center, agreed, saying he sees “an unfortunate necessity” to protect houses of worship now more than ever. The number of anti-Semitic attacks has risen in recent years, and several synagogues have been the targets of mass shootings.

“Unfortunately, places of worship are no longer considered by terrorists as holy places,” Androphy said. The temple bolstered its security in the wake of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh last Oct. 27.

Fahad Qamer, president of Jaam’e Masjid in Bellmore, said that same fear is felt by Muslims following attacks on mosques like the one in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March. “Because of what’s going on around in the world today,” Qamer, of Merrick, said, “we have a lot of concerns in our masjid. People are afraid.”

A climate of hatred, which infringes on parishioners’ right to practice their faith openly and safely, is unprecedented, said Drucker, a Democrat from Plainview. It is also the motivation behind his bill. The recently proposed legislation would require the Nassau County Police Department to patrol at places of worship countywide. The department’s duties would include concentrating “police resources . . . to prioritize the protection of houses of worship and religious institutions.”

“Our Constitution affords us the right of freedom of religion, and when that’s at risk, it triggers a tremendous outpouring of fear and anxiety,” Drucker said. “We never thought we’d live in a day when we’re concerned about going into synagogues, churches and mosques. It’s unheard of, but it can happen right here in Nassau County.”

The bill was filed with the county clerk in early May, and has yet to be assigned a committee. It is too early to tell when it would come before the Legislature for a vote.

Qamer said that Jaam’e Masjid has had to hire private security guards, especially during Islamic holidays and the month of Ramadan, and that the bill might alleviate that fiscal strain. “It just makes sense to have more security,” he said.

The legislation does not have the support of Legislator Steve Rhoads, a Bellmore Republican. And Chris Boyle, the Legislature’s deputy director of communications, said in a statement that the bill is well-intentioned but would accomplish nothing. “The NCPD is already dedicated to protecting our houses of worship as well as schools, day care centers, colleges and other potential targets of violence,” Boyle said. “The proposed law will not in any way change policing in our county.”

The bill would not apply to municipalities with their own police forces, such as the cities of Glen Cove and Long Beach and the villages of Rockville Centre and Freeport. Drucker said he was optimistic, however, that those departments would follow the county’s lead and work together to increase patrols at religious institutions.

“The Nassau County Police Department has intensified and increased patrols around all houses of worship to protect all and will continue to do so,” Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder wrote in an email to the Herald. “In addition, the NCPD Intelligence Unit continues to work with federal, state and local authorities.”

Although they welcomed more patrols, local faith leaders said that the NCPD was already doing a great job of protecting communities’ houses of worship. “We have had wonderful cooperation with the Nassau County Police Department,” Androphy said.

Both he and Qamer said that there had been few acts of hatred locally in recent years. Qamer recalled that a man shouted at congregants before vandalizing mosque property a few years ago. “But we haven’t had anything big so far,” he added.

Androphy said he had not seen any acts of anti-Semitism locally. According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were no reported acts of anti-Semitism in East Meadow over the past year, but the ADL described two acts of anti-Semitic vandalism in 2017 as “confidential,” meaning the circumstances were not disclosed to the public.

Brian Stieglitz and Timothy Denton contributed to this story.