By Andy Jabbour, Founder and Senior Advisor, Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization
As the nation begins the process of reopening and reentry, on May 22, 2020, President Trump declared “houses of worship, churches, synagogues and mosques” to be “essential places that provide essential services.” He’s right in that. But faith-based organizations (FBOs) have not had a seat at the table with other essential entities and critical infrastructure – being excluded from discussions on the nation’s reopening.
To follow his statements regarding the essential nature of FBOs and to codify the community of faith as a vital part of the national fabric, President Trump should formally designate an additional sector of critical infrastructure by establishing a Faith-Based Sector to include places of worship, food pantries, schools, and other charities and faith-based organizations (broadly, FBOs).
The idea of “critical infrastructure” predates the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and starts under the Clinton administration. In 1996, the President’s Commission on Critical Infrastructure Protection encouraged increasing cooperation between the U.S. Government and the private sector. Since then, under the leadership of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama, via a variety of Executive Orders and presidential directives, there have been minor refinements to the formal Sectors designated as critical infrastructure. With President Obama’s Presidential Policy Directive 21 (PPD-21), there are presently 16 designated critical infrastructure sectors. In PPD-21, President Obama wrote that the “Nation’s critical infrastructure provides the essential services that underpin American society.”
Beyond the idea of critical infrastructure, DHS has led an effort to address system-wide and cross-sector risks to develop plans and solutions for reducing systemic risks to national and economic security through the development of national critical functions. Here, the role of FBOs has been demonstrated in responses ranging from hostile events to natural disasters. Whether helping to provide housing and shelter, preserving Americans’ Constitutional rights, or assisting community health, places and people of faith have been there to protect and preserve our way of life.
The vital role FBOs play in our society has been demonstrated throughout every calamity that has impacted our nation, to include the current pandemic. From our daily lives to times of national duress to being present to help support communities and families after hurricanes and other tragic events, the community of faith is an essential part of our society, benefitting believers and non-believers. Today, DHS recognizes clergy as part of the essential workforce. President Trump has advocated for protecting religious freedoms and his administration, including DHS, has engaged with faith-based entities as partners on par with established critical infrastructure. That treatment should be formally codified with the establishment of a Faith-Based Sector.
Some may wonder what purpose that serves. As evidenced in very well-known hostile events – from South Carolina to Tennessee, Pennsylvania to Texas to San Diego, and other attacks across the country, as well as catastrophic incidents such as the Christchurch and Sri Lanka massacres – the community of faith has been and continues to be frequently and devastatingly targeted. And attacks and incidents aren’t limited to acts of physical violence but also include the same cyber threats facing critical infrastructure (many of which pose greater direct risk to individuals than other, formally designated Sectors), as well as the same threats from natural hazards and health threats as critical infrastructure. Like some of those other Sectors, places of worship and other faith-based locations serve as parts of the community, in some ways like commercial facilities. Practicing believers and others seeking assistance gather at these locations to do all sorts of things, to include worship, but also to socialize, attend classes, teach children, provide community-based services like job search support, receive mental health services, and other activities.
To DHS’s credit, the Department has been increasingly working with FBOs, and field operatives have provided training and assistance to FBOs around the country. At the state and local level, many fusion centers and InfraGard chapters are engaging with FBOs and helping them enhance security and resilience. While this is all very commendable, it is being done outside of formal executive guidance. In conversations we’ve had around the country, the absence of formal designation has been a frustration repeatedly expressed in discussions with fusion center partners and InfraGard leaders. To better support DHS’s efforts, to more greatly involve the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and to give the fusion centers and InfraGard chapters clear guidance and authority, President Trump should formally designate a Faith-Based Sector and should establish DHS as the Sector Specific Agency for the Sector.
Current engagement needs to move beyond well-intended leaders trying to “do the right thing,” and beyond impromptu remarks to the press, and move to formal designation establishing the community of faith as an equal partner “underpinning American society.” For the good of the Nation, for the community of faith, and for those they serve across our country and beyond, President Trump should codify FBOs as critical infrastructure and formally establish a Faith-Based Sector.
Andy Jabbour, Founder and Senior Advisor to the Faith-Based Information Sharing and Analysis Organization (FB-ISAO), on behalf of
- Mayya Saab, Executive Director, FB-ISAO and our Advisory Board members:
- William Flynn, President, Garda Risk Management LLC; Former Deputy Assistant Secretary, DHS Office of Infrastructure Protection
- Curtis Jones, Executive Program Manager Infragard National Religious Facilities Protection Program
- Josh Nalley, Office of Risk Management, Compassion International
- Cantor/Chaplain Michael A. Shochet, Senior Cantor of Temple Rodef Shalom
- Linda Solheim, Former Associate Director, Security Programs, CISA, DHS
- Gary Warner, Director of the University of Alabama Computer Forensics Research Lab and the Director of Threat Intelligence for DarkTower.
FB-ISAO, a 501(c)(3) non-profit, serves as a trusted partner at the center of a national network of faith-based organizations and associations that have been informed and equipped to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from incidents arising from all-hazards, ensuring the resilience and continuity of these important community assets.