State Senator Andy Dinniman and other senators announced the Tolerance, Respect, and Understanding (TRU) Program, Senate Bill 676, to address security needs and confront violence against faith-based organizations and those with diverse members.
Dinniman was joined by state Senators Jay Costa, Judy Schwank, Sharif Street, Katie Muth, Maria Collett and Tim Kearney.
“In all of the world, it was here in Pennsylvania 337 years ago that we made the first statement of religious tolerance, liberty, and freedom of worship,” Dinniman said. “Today, with the rise of violence and hate it is up to us to reaffirm what our founders said with the Great Law of 1682.”
The impetus for the bill emerged from conversations with faith and community leaders from across the Commonwealth following the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and the special Joint Legislative Session and day of remembrance held earlier this spring. Dinniman said the bill was part of a package of legislation that aims to prevent violence and fight bigotry. That includes Street’s Senate Bill 71, designed to combat vandalism of sacred spaces such as faith institutions, cemeteries, or memorials, as well as hate crimes and victims’ rights legislation, currently being drafted by Costa, the Senate Democratic Leader.
The purpose of the legislation is twofold:
- To establish a Pennsylvania Nonprofit Security Grant Program to provide security improvements for facilities used by faith-based organizations.
- To support community-based conversations and events that create an atmosphere supportive of tolerance, respect, and understanding.
Parts of the bill were modeled after Pennsylvania’s new School Safety and Community Violence Prevention and Reduction Grant Program (Act 44 of 2018) and its language is reflective of that in the federal Hate Crime Prevention Act.
Schwank, a prime co-supporter of the TRU Program, said supporting stronger security measures for religious institutions was an “unfortunate reality” of the intolerance problem currently facing Pennsylvania and the nation. “Everyone deserves to feel safe in their place of worship, no matter what faith that person practices,” she said. “Regardless of your religion or background, we need to fight this together. We need everyone pulling in the right direction.”