Just months after the devastating church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the U.S. government has announced new efforts to help religious leaders prepare in the event of dangerous situations like these.
Recent years have seen religious and faith-based institutions as the most common targets of terrorism in America. In accordance with President Donald Trump’s priority to get have more government coordinated anti-terrorism training for our society, U.S. attorneys’ offices in Massachusetts, Colorado, and North Carolina have created security workshops for churches and other houses of worship to prepare leaders for crisis.
Help from the government is arriving at a key time, as congregations across the country have been stepping up security efforts. According to management of Church Mutual Insurance, the largest insurer of religious institutions in the U.S., the request for security training for religious organizations is in such high demand that the wait can be up to a year for a private training event.
“The U.S. Attorney’s Office learned that houses of worship could benefit from a greater understanding about how to handle an active threat or public safety crises,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “There was a need for education around how to develop contingency plans for emergencies and what to expect from law enforcement during emergencies.”
The response to the security training from the religious community has been positive. A recent training session in Massachusetts led by agents from federal, state, and local authorities, welcomed over 300 attendees to learn strategies and crucial information about active shooter threats, other potentially dangerous scenarios, as well as practical guidance and risk indicators.
The need for these workshops highlight the alarming reality that religious institutions are increasingly becoming more frequent targets for terrorist attacks. In fact, according to the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, in 2015 and 2016, 38 percent of all terrorist attacks in the U.S. were against religious institutions or figures.
Religious leaders want to take every precaution to insure their parishioners are safe. Richard Reid, pastor of North Baptist Church in nearby Brockton, Massachusetts attended the government security workshop because their conservative stances on social issues have made his church a target for verbal attacks.
“I’m not taking a chance on anybody in our congregation getting injured or killed, he said. “My job as the shepherd of the church is to protect the flock. And I will do so with whatever means I need.”
Pastor Reid has tightened security at his church. The doors are now locked as soon as worship begins. In addition, there are new security cameras that allow Reid to see inside and outside of the building via a laptop in the pulpit. Pastor Reid has forged a partnership with local law enforcement and is ready to contact police should an attack occur inside the church.
“My phone is on the pulpit, ready to rumble,” said Reid. “The closer we can work with the authorities, the better off we’ll be in the long run.”
According to Peter Weinberger, senior researcher in countering violent extremism at the START Center, he expects to see these government training workshops in other states under the Trump administration.
“With the Obama administration, there was a role for law enforcement, but it certainly wasn’t as active as it is today,” he said. “The Trump administration is now looking for robust partnerships [with religious institutions]. They want really close coordination.”
~ 1776 Christian