Inclusive and Safe Maryland for Everyone

December 9, 2015

By Heather Iliff, President & CEO, Maryland Nonprofits

The Paris attacks heightened the level of fear and anxiety around the world. And, now we are dealing with the aftermath of attacks on two nonprofit organizations in the United States that occurred within a week of each other. Planned Parenthood in Colorado Springs was attacked on November 28, 2015 by a suspect who allegedly held “anti-abortion and anti-government views.” Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, CA, that serves people with developmental disabilities, was attacked on December 2, and it was declared an act of terrorism by President Obama. The impacts on nonprofits and the people they serve are incalculable. Following that attack, 8 other regional centers closed their doors temporarily as leaders tried to respond appropriately to the tragedy and stay safe.

Issues related to terrorism continue to have many effects on the nonprofit community and those we serve. Governor Larry Hogan recently joined other governors around the country to ask the federal government to “cease any additional settlements of refugees from Syria in Maryland until the U.S. government can provide appropriate assurances that refugees from Syria pose no threat to public safety.” The federal government informed many nonprofits last week that the actions and objections of the governors are not controlling. “States may not deny (Office of Refugee Resettlement)-funded benefits and services to refugees based on a refugee’s country of origin or religious affiliation,” wrote Robert Carey, director of the office. He went on to explain, “Accordingly, states may not categorically deny ORR-funded benefits and services to Syrian refugees,” adding that states and agencies that do not comply would be violating the law and “could be subject to enforcement action, including suspension or termination.” Despite this clear statement, the Texas Health Commission filed suit against the nonprofit International Rescue Committee and the federal government in an attempt to force the nonprofit to comply with an order from Governor Abbott that nonprofits not assist Syrian refugees. Aid to refugees from other countries are not affected by the Governor’s order, raising equal protection and national origin concerns, among many others. While these cases make their way through the courts, the chilling affect with nonprofits and relationships with governmental funders are worrisome.

As leaders in our communities, for the people we serve, our staff, and the broader public, nonprofit organizations are critical to helping people cope with tragedy, promote programs and public policy that prevent violence, and to ensure that fear does not drive us to give up our values. Thanks to a coalition of nonprofit leaders across Maryland, some gun control measures have been put into place in 2013. Many other actions by nonprofits and government in mental health, public safety, justice, education, faith and conflict resolution are critical to help keep our communities safe. It is important for us to act in solidarity and support inclusiveness, equity and justice for all Marylanders.

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