Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Faith Perspectives: Protecting Houses of Worship

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Faith Perspectives: Protecting Houses of Worship

Article excerpt

There are very few places like our houses of worship where we feel at peace, protected and rejuvenated.

People go to houses of worship for many reasons -- prayer, religious education, connecting with our community members and sharing happiness in birth, marriage and sorrow.

For years I had found front doors of the mosque open in the middle of the night, so the faithful can enter for prayer at the wee hours. We did not have any "watchperson" for many years. The staff during the day hardly asked anyone about his or her identification.

Even if newcomers did not know anyone in the mosque, they felt a sense of belonging. Every new person was greeted with open hearts.

Now, the most common expression regarding security of our place of worship is, "You have to be very careful. Times have changed."

Unfortunately, that is true about almost every place; schools, theaters, shopping malls, airports.

"Safety" never crossed my mind while going for prayers; I used to be more concerned about being on time, finding a good place to park and making sure the children were not running around. Now, when we enter the premises, we see security cars, armed security officers, security cameras and limited access after hours.

Friends of other faiths tell me they are going through the same experience.

All these measures are very important and help to keep us safe. But I do feel sadness at the loss of innocence and openness, at not being able to receive or drop my family and friends at the airport gate, at recent suggestions about arming school staff.

Over the last few years, attacks on houses of worship have increased. Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Sikh temples have been targeted. In one recent massacre at a Pittsburgh synagogue, 11 innocent worshippers lost their lives. Mosques have been burned; graffiti scrawled over many walls. There have been shootings at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, churches in North Carolina (where nine African-Americans lost their lives) and Texas (where 26 died).

Together, they serve as a stark reminder that our places of worship are no longer sanctuaries.

Recently, the FBI's St. Louis office held a very important workshop on protecting houses of worship at New Northside Family Life Center. Representatives of different faiths attended the workshop with the same concerns about how to protect their places of worship. I gained a wealth of useful information. I am extremely thankful to the FBI St. …

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