For Homes of Worship, Interfaith Collaboration Is the Way forward for Safety

For Homes of Worship, Interfaith Collaboration Is the Way forward for Safety

Through RNS — Final month, on the final day of Passover, a person armed with an AR-15-style rifle stormed into the Chabad of Poway synagogue in suburban San Diego and killed one worshipper and left three others injured. Later, the gunman reportedly confessed to burning a close-by mosque as nicely.

The assault got here precisely six months to the day after 11 worshippers have been killed at a Pittsburgh synagogue within the deadliest anti-Semitic assault America has ever seen.

However in keeping with non secular leaders, just about no religion neighborhood has been spared violence – firebombings, mass shootings and extra – over the previous few years.

Poway and Pittsburgh have been preceded by the 2017 assault on a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, the place 26 folks have been killed. The identical yr in Quebec Metropolis, Canada, six worshippers have been killed at a mosque. In 2015, in Charleston, S.C., 9 folks have been left useless at a black church. Six extra have been killed at a Sikh gurdwara in 2012 in Oak Creek, Wis. And much too many extra.

In response, religion leaders throughout the nation are placing their heads collectively to assist shield their congregations — and to take action, they’re more and more crossing denominational strains.

“It doesn’t matter what you call God or a higher power,” mentioned Andy Jabbour, managing director of the Religion-Primarily based Info Sharing and Evaluation Group in Leesburg, Va. “We all have a right to come together and worship, so we have to protect that right for all of us.”

Jabbour co-founded the nonprofit final yr with the goal of forming a community of U.S. homes of worship and faith-based charities to equip them towards safety threats, from arson and lively shooter conditions to hacked emails.

“We’re a community, whether we’re one faith or another,” Jabbour mentioned. “They might be targeting you today, but they might turn around and go to yours tomorrow. So we need to collaborate and exchange notes so we can share solutions.”

In Owings Mills, Md., greater than 50 numerous religion leaders gathered this week to launch the brand new Interfaith Coalition of Better Baltimore, which kicked off with a neighborhood summit on security and safety for faith-based organizations. There, civil rights advocates and native police supplied bystander intervention coaching, recommendation on grant functions for safety, and sensible security measures leaders can take to guard their organizations.

Inside hours of the assault on the Poway synagogue, one other alliance, the Worldwide Fellowship of Christians and Jews, launched a worldwide effort to arrange synagogues for brand new threats of violence by interfaith cooperation.

“We want to make sure that every synagogue in the world is prepared to protect themselves against attacks like the ones we’ve seen recently,” mentioned Yael Eckstein, president of the IFCJ. “We have been able to rely on our Christian friends again and again to step up and provide emergency assistance to Jews in need, including Holocaust survivors. Now we are asking them to help us in this effort to protect our communities from extremists who want to shatter our peace with their acts of terror.”

Due to grim historic realities, synagogues, African American church buildings and mosques have supplied their expertise to homes of worship which might be simply now starting to wrestle with safety points.

“For a variety of really bad reasons, the Jewish community has developed a higher level or a greater focus on this than other communities,” mentioned David Friedman, vp of regulation enforcement and neighborhood safety on the Anti-Defamation League, citing makes an attempt by the Ku Klux Klan within the 1960s to focus on synagogues and black church buildings.

“Historically Jews have been acutely aware of our institutions as potential targets for extremists — on the right, on the left, international and domestic,” Friedman mentioned. “So the Jewish community really has developed a considerable amount of expertise.”

Specialists say working throughout communities is essential to making sure collective security.

“Jewish people and those of all faiths should not have to live in fear of going to their house of worship,” mentioned Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL, in a press release after the Poway taking pictures. “From Charleston to Pittsburgh to Oak Creek and from Christchurch to Sri Lanka, and now Poway, we need to say ‘enough is enough.’”

About 15 years in the past, in keeping with Friedman, the ADL started working with Latino organizations after they realized safety methods weren’t all that completely different from one minority group to a different. After the Oak Creek taking pictures, sharing experience with different religion teams grew to become a serious precedence for the ADL.

“Making it possible for more institutions that are outside of the Jewish community to not have to go through the learning curve that we went through is very important to us,” Friedman mentioned.

The ADL, which was based in 1913 to combat anti-Semitism and all types of hate, has spent many years guiding Jewish establishments on finest practices for safety. In 1981, responding to incidents directed towards U.S. Jews, the ADL developed mannequin laws that will form the primary hate crime statute greater than a decade later.

“From the outset, we’ve recognized that we can’t protect one group in a vacuum, that there always has to be consideration for everyone to be protected,” mentioned Friedman.

After the 2015 Charleston church taking pictures, the ADL launched a marketing campaign to guard minorities in each U.S. state with complete hate crime laws and produced a information that tailored its suggestions for all faith-based and neighborhood establishments.

Muslims, too, have common reminders to pay attention to safety. After the assault on two mosques in New Zealand in March, the Council on American-Islamic Relations distributed hundreds of copies of its booklet on finest practices for mosque security to each mosque in the USA. For the reason that assault, a whole bunch of mosques have requested lively shooter coaching.

CAIR recommends that mosques construct on relationships with federal or native regulation enforcement, mentioned Abbas Barzegar, the group’s director of analysis and advocacy, even when these relationships are presently based mostly on visitors management and parking preparations, or if teaming with police means overcoming what Barzegar calls their “tense” historical past with the FBI.

“We’re finding that most mosques across the country are actually quite well prepared and have a lot of experience, especially after 9/11, if not before, dealing with questions of security,” Barzegar mentioned. “So it’s just building upon what they already have, scaling up pre-existing security protocols and trying to allay community concerns.”

Forward of the holy month of Ramadan, which started this week, the Muslim Public Affairs Council additionally invited religion leaders from many denominations to affix a convention name on security with native, state and federal authorities and regulation enforcement officers on Could 2.

The decision’s organizers pressured working with interfaith teams and different homes of worship to advertise consciousness of safety, suggesting, as an example, that they invite different congregations to face outdoors mosque entrances or attend prayer companies to indicate solidarity.

Among the finest sources for largely Arab and South Asian Muslim congregations has confirmed to be traditionally black mosques, which have been targets for many years.

“It’s often overlooked, but it’s the African American community that has paved the way for a lot of what Muslims are doing today, both in security and in community engagement,” Barzegar mentioned. “They’ve dealt with racist attacks, inner-city violence and police surveillance for decades.”

For the primary time this Ramadan, many mosques are hiring their very own unbiased safety forces or posting armed guards.

However by their nature, mentioned Jabbour, homes of worship are “soft targets.” They usually depend on part-time or volunteer employees to offer safety, and so they promote their hours and openness to all comers.

And plenty of religion communities haven’t any intention of adjusting that.

In 2017, the Sikh Coalition labored with greater than 60 of the nation’s roughly 300 gurdwaras to enhance safety, from putting in cameras to hiring consultants.

“Yes, we’re thinking about measures to better protect the community congregating in that space, but we also know that as part of our Sikh values, we believe in equality and selfless service for all of humanity,” Satjeet Kaur, govt director of the Sikh Coalition, mentioned. “And part of that is having open doors.”

Whereas a information the coalition revealed notes Sikhs’ lengthy custom of defending their worship house, Sikh leaders emphasize that gurdwaras all over the world supply free meals and shelter to folks of any background.

“Even in light of the risk that does exist, and given the incidents that have happened over the past years … Sikhs won’t give in to the fear and hate,” Kaur mentioned.

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