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Churches across the Nation Taking Security Classes after Rise in Religious Hate Crimes.

Statistics on hate speeches, attacks, and crimes are at their highest records so far across America. And religion has been the core issue wherein majority of the victims of such attacks are either religious leaders or the places of worships. The mass shooting at a local church in Charleston, South Carolina last year has made its mark and became a pivotal point for law enforcement officers and church leaders to change the way they respond to hate attacks and terrorism.

All across the nation, churches are now trying to beef up their security protocols with the aid of the local sheriffs and security training schools.

In Texas, over 90 law enforcements officers and church representatives have attended a security training conducted by the security firm Training Force USA on January 7. The training came after the premises of a local Scientology Church is Austin was attacked last month by a man who considered the religion as evil. Also in November of 2015, the Islamic Center of Pflugerville’s mosque has been subjected to vandalism.

The firm’s security trainer Thomas Gillan cited that even churches and religious groups have that responsibility to secure their premises and flocks “You’re telling people you’re going to be in service and open to the public on Sunday, and people know you’re accessible. You have to have a plan in place… Burglary, theft vandalism, arson, there are a lot of things people need to have in place for these kind of incidents.”

The Hill Country Bible Church which became the venue for the training was purposely chosen by the organizers because it has already an existing security team and protocol in place. According to Noel Johnson of the Texas Municipal Police Association, the ultimate goal is to make places of worships safer for the family. Johnson also described churches as both “hard and soft targets for terrorist organizations.”

In North Carolina, it’s the county sheriffs who provide the training for churches. Again, the increase in demand for security training was caused by the mass shooting in its neighbor state last year. And to make things more organized, the North Carolina Sheriffs’ Association (NCSA) has created a team that developed a Church Security Training Curriculum which shall be used by all sheriff trainers across the state. Last month, the training curriculum was already released and deemed available for use.

The goal of the curriculum and of the local sheriff’s training is to guide local churches to establish their own security protocol with consideration on each church’s existing resources. According to Eddie Caldwell of the NCSA, the church leaders have the final say as to how far the security measures can go. The curriculum is divided into several sections and objectives which include:  conducting a security risk assessment, developing a place of worship security plan, what to do during the critical incident, what to do immediately after the critical incident, and, the need to provide crisis intervention stress management afterward.

In California, security and non-security church personnel including ministers are undergoing security trainings particularly in the use and carrying of concealed guns. The training is being offered for free by gun safety instructor Geof Peabody. But since gun control and gun violence is an ongoing social issue, there’s a mix of opinion when it comes to the idea of resorting to guns for security.

One of the trainees argues that using a gun is not at all against church teachings “The Bible tells us to be our brother's protector…it's just another tool.” Another reasons out that “The drive behind it is so I can protect myself and my family. The fact that I also work at the church and serve in that way, is just an added benefit. Crazy things happen day in and day out.” The El Dorado County Sheriff John D’Agostini is also supportive of Peabody’s efforts arguing that “These are law-abiding people. It's the evil criminals that are the threat.”

On the other hand, those who don’t agree with such measures like Peter Blair cites that even a good guy who is carrying a gun can always become dangerous. He added that “You might end up shooting another concealed weapons holder that you don't recognize. The police may shoot you. You might accidentally shoot an innocent person when you're shooting at the attacker.”

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