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Missoula places of worship see changes in light of recent violence

Posted at 11:36 AM, May 01, 2019

MISSOULA – A gunman entered a San Diego synagogue Saturday and opened fire inside, killing one person and injuring three others.

A series of bombings in Sri Lanka churches killed hundreds over Easter weekend.

These are just a few examples of violence hitting places of worship across the world and local clergy are taking steps to protect their congregations.

FBI data shows religious-based hate crime — specifically in Jewish institutions — spiked about 37% between 2016 and 2017.

Additionally, the Anti-Defamation League released statistics on Tuesday showing violent attacks against the Jewish community in the United States doubled since last year.

Local clergy tell MTN News that in response to the rise in these numbers and incidents, some needed changes are being made at places of worship.

“We proceed with the notion that if you’re going to come under our roof – you’re responsible for making good decisions about their safety and security when they’re here,” said Har Shalom Rabbi Laurie Franklin.

Har Shalom The Har Shalom Synagogue Missoula
The Har Shalom Synagogue on Russell Street in Missoula (MTN News photo)

It was after last year’s mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue that Franklin decided to move forward with plans to protect her congregation at Har Shalom in Missoula.

A keypad and new door were installed, and she is in the process of looking at safer windows.

She says it’s a truth that was hard to come to terms with, and she stills struggles with maintaining a balance of openness and safety.

It’s not just Har Shalom that’s dealing with this new reality — Missoula’s Christian Life Center will be hosting a two-day training session on how to deal with threats in the place of worship.

Christian Life Center board member John Neilson says the training is the first step in creating a safe place for worshippers.

“If you read the news — especially lately — there’s bombings, shootings in places that you’ve never had them before. We’ve always thought the church is a safe place, and it still is. Chances are it won’t happen, but now we want to protect and be vigilant,” Neilson told MTN News.

Missoula Christian Life Center
The Missoula Christian Life Center on Russell Street in Missoula (MTN News photo)

Neilson, and Franklin say their congregations are on board with the changes – and are very aware of the deeper issues of these type of threats.

They both believe for now these safety precautions are important steps to take before tragedy hits much closer to home.

“I pray a lot — I’m serious. Because my prayer is that we don’t become dominated by fear.  I’m not dominated by fear at all! What will happen next, happens next? — but I do have agency. Everyone has agency and all of us can be part of a solution. The question is what are we going to choose to do in order to create the good solutions,” Franklin states.

FBI data from the past decade shows a decline in anti-Jewish hate crime through 2015, but the figures jumped in 2016 and 2017.