Church leaders look to improve safety as soft target attacks continue

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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) — There is a push to secure places of worship following attacks in recent months. Religious leaders everywhere are looking to protect their worshipers.

The National Cathedral in Washington has its own security force. (Source: Gray DC)

Religious communities in Poway, California; Charleston, South Carolina; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Sutherland Springs, Texas; Quebec City; and many more have been targets of hate-filled attacks. Between prayers, a search for answers carries on to stop the violence.

"We are tolerating this not only in our houses of worship, but everywhere," said Mariann Budee, the Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

Budee says because of this string of attacks, her worshippers are asking questions she never thought she'd have to answer.

"It's a constant request from the congregations that I oversee that we have workshops for them, or that we partner with local law enforcement to have some kind of training," said Budee.

Training for the unthinkable.

Reverend Randy Hollerith, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, says the people carrying out attacks are trying to sow division and hatred.

"The most important thing we have to do is stand against hate. That we cannot succumb to the sort of hatred they're trying to produce through their violence," said Hollerith.

While places of worship push for more safety, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security says it is trying to do its part to give guidance.

"We need to now change the conversation to where, yes, we're inviting, but we're also in the business of protecting those who worship here," said Brian Harrell, DHS Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure Security.

Harrell says his department has guidelines for local places of worship, helping them to become so-called harder targets. Harrell says an important piece is identifying potential bad actors before they strike.

"Are we being mindful of these behavioral indicators? Do we have a security apparatus in place? And probably most importantly, do we have a relationship with local law enforcement?" said Harrell.

The Department of Homeland Security has resources on securing soft targets at DHS.gov.

Earlier this year, a bill to allow weapons, including firearms, within places of worship in Virginia passed the Senate on party lines and then failed in a House committee.

The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy opposed the bill, saying that worship spaces should “be holy, safe and a refuge” and “free of violence.”