Federal agencies teach how to protect a place of worship

MISSOULA - Across the nation, and around the world, hate crimes targeting places of worship are becoming more common, and because of that local churches and synagogues are learning how they can better protect their congregations.

Faith leaders from multiple backgrounds came together Wednesday to learn from security experts about how they can protect their places of worship. 

"We do not expect it to happen in our own backyard, but also no one expected it to happen in the places they were worshiping," Father Ed Hislop said.

Representatives from the US Department of Justice, Homeland Security and the Anti-Defamation League all came to Missoula for the presentation.

"Christ Church in New Zealand, Chabad of Poway in San Diego, at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, at the Charleston Emanuel church."

Anti-defamation League Regional Director Kendall Kosai listed attacks on the Christ Church in New Zealand, Chabad of Poway in San Diego, the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Charleston Emanuel church among recent prominent cases.

Whether it’s a mosque a synagogue or a church, hate crimes targeting religious buildings is on the rise, and it’s causing a dilemma for faith leaders.

"We don’t want to start allowing our places of worship to become fortresses, but on the other hand we have to be realistic and to make sure the people who gather are protected and are safe," Father Hislop said.

One of the main focuses of Wednesday’s program was to show there are more resources available then you might expect.

"There is a lot that can be done with law enforcement, community organizations, and even other congregations across the region,” Kosai said.

"One of the biggest resources you have are your friends, right here in the community,” Homeland Security Protective Services Advisor Randy Middlebrook said.

And there are simple protective measures that are easy to implement.

“Creating an emergency action plan, organizing teams, reaching out to local law enforcement and even something as easy as locking doors,” Middlebrook said.

The Office of Homeland Security also has multiple online resources for places of worship. Middlebrook also encouraged faith leaders to reach out to him directly to help set up emergency action plans.

Randy Middlebrook: (406)839-1165 randy.middlebrook@hq.dhs.gov

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