Secretary Mayorkas delivered the following remarks at the Protecting Places of Worship Roundtable, hosted at the White House in Washington, D.C. on September 28, 2023.
The reason I came here was to applaud and thank all of you for the work that you do, your partnership and friendship with our Department, and to share a quick thought and maybe take a couple of questions or comments from you – but really I just wanted to come in and say, thank you.
I wanted to underscore two principles that I think underlie our work around this room and around the country, and share an experience we had yesterday in Pittsburgh at the Eradicate Hate Summit, that I think speaks of the criticality of the approach that we are taking around this room and around the country.
The first principle is that there is no such thing as a small act of hate – that it can be a defamatory symbol on an elevator, and that defamatory symbol on a single elevator doesn't only victimize the individuals who see it, when they ride on that elevator. It reverberates and ripples far more broadly than that, and so, the victims of an act of hate are far broader than those directly or are more immediately targeted.
The second principle is that when there is an act of hate, targeted at one community, it is all of us who are impacted, because until we get to a place where we understand that community is all inclusive, we will continue to need to do this work.
I think those are two critical guiding principles of our work in protecting houses of worship, and protecting the communities of which they are a part.
The lesson – and it’s not a new lesson, but it's a lesson that cannot be repeated too often – that was born of the dialogue yesterday at the summit – I had the opportunity, the honor, of meeting with the survivors of the Tree of Life shooting there in Pittsburgh. And I had wanted to visit with them in the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, but chose not to, to ensure that I didn't do anything by my presence with them to infect the judicial proceedings against the perpetrator.
And so, I, in order to maintain at least the appearance of independence and integrity of those proceedings, I chose to wait in this was my first opportunity.
But a woman by the name of Audrey said something very, very powerful at the very beginning of our engagement.
She said that the greatest source of strength – the greatest source of strength for them immediately after the tragedy – was when the Muslim leader in their community came and spoke about the unity that would define the community's response. And to know that the tragedy touched and would be responded to by the interfaith community was the key to her and everyone in that room's strength.
And it ties very directly – the need for interfaith work – ties very directly to, I think, both of the principles that I articulated, which is that the impact reverberates far beyond the specific locality of the attack, and two, the communities impacted are all of our communities.
And I think that is going to continue to define our work in our partnership with all of you.
I think all of you are familiar with the work that we do in the Department, certainly some of you helped make it happen – I see a members of our Faith-Based Security Advisory Council here.
What is increasingly worrying to me and does have to be an area of greater emphasis is the threat landscape has changed.
Number one, the rise in hate is marked. The rise in violence born of hate is marked. And the targets have changed. We have to worry about target rich-resource poor institutions, and the disparity in the capacity to protect places of worship, and make sure that all feel safe and secure, and without compromising their welcoming and embracing posture to their respective congregants.
Let me end where I began, which is just to say thank you for your commitment to this work, so that people can pray in peace and we can achieve the peace we all pray for.