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A collage image (from left): 1) a person holding a cross, 2) an image of a religious text, 3) a mosque, 4) a place of worship, 5) a person reading a religious text, and 6) a woman prays
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CRS works with communities facing conflict based on religion. CRS facilitates communication among religious leaders, educational institutions, elected officials, law enforcement, and community members to develop relationships and mechanisms that effectively prevent and respond to religion-based conflicts. Some examples of how CRS supports communities experiencing tension and conflicts based on religion are below:

  • Facilitating dialogues between law enforcement and religious community members following hate crimes or bias incidents based on religion to help ensure the safety of congregations and inform community members of available resources
  • Providing training to increase law enforcement awareness of civil-rights related issues that impact Muslim and Sikh Americans, to enhance understanding of beliefs and religious practices, and to provide best practices for collaboration with Muslim and Sikh American communities
  • Conducting programs and leading dialogues with school officials, teachers, and students to prevent bullying based on religion both inside and outside of educational institutions
  • Holding Protecting Places of Worship forums, public gatherings that provide faith-based communities information related to protecting places of worship and resources for improving building safety

Below are some recent examples of CRS's work assisting communities experiencing faith-based tension and conflict. Additional case summaries may be found within CRS’s Annual Reports, located on the CRS Resource Center webpage.

Case Highlights

In early FY 2020, a group of law enforcement leaders requested that CRS conduct the Engaging and Building Partnerships with Muslim Americans training program during a session at an annual conference for campus law enforcement officials. Law enforcement officials felt their state and local officers would benefit from the CRS training due, in part, to the local Muslim population’s growth, recent cases of mistaken identity, and misunderstandings about Muslim religious beliefs.

In December 2019, CRS and a subject matter expert delivered the training at the conference in The Woodlands, Texas, for approximately 50 police chiefs and assistant police chiefs from colleges and universities across Texas.

The training provided the police officers with a better understanding of Muslim religious beliefs and culture, increased awareness of civil rights related issues that impact Muslim Americans, and tools and best practices for engaging with the community. At the conclusion of the training, officers developed plans to conduct outreach to Muslim communities in their jurisdictions to improve interactions, build partnerships, and increase public trust.

In the aftermath of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018, federal and law enforcement officials, community leaders, and faith leaders in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, asked CRS to provide continued services to help calm tensions and address the community’s fears. A group of federal agencies in the greater Pittsburgh area had identified a need to respond to hate crimes and learn how to prevent future hate crimes from occurring. CRS led the interagency initiative to increase the federal agencies’ capacity to prevent and respond to hate crimes in Pittsburgh by forming a working group comprised of local federal employees.

The working group expanded from six to more than 25 members, including representatives from seven federal agencies, the city of Pittsburgh, and a local university. The working group met frequently to discuss how to leverage existing community resources to prevent and respond to hate crimes and how to increase the members’ understanding of hate crimes and capacity to respond to them.

The group planned and coordinated a daylong event on October 30, 2019, at Carnegie Mellon University, designed to facilitate conversations about hate crimes and hate crimes prevention among students, faith leaders, educators, and community advocates. CRS provided facilitation training to approximately 20 volunteers, including EEOC officers, educators, nonprofit leaders, faith-based leaders, and social workers, who led “World Café” dialogues during the event.

The “Forum on Hate Crimes, Hate vs. Understanding: Start the Conversation” was also part of the university’s celebration of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer or Questioning (LGBTQ) history month. The first panel included speakers from the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and Carnegie Mellon University Police. Participants learned how to address and prevent hate crimes and workplace violence and discrimination, as well as how to work with LGBTQ communities and emerging community groups, including the city’s growing Burmese, Chinese, and Korean communities. After the morning panel, two national LGBTQ advocates spoke about the 10th anniversary of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) of 2009. One expert included Judy Shepard, the mother of Matthew Shepard. She described her efforts to ensure passage of the HCPA, and the Matthew Shepard Foundation’s accomplishments in ensuring safety, visibility, and inclusiveness of the LGBTQ community since the enactment of the HCPA. An afternoon panel, “Preventing Hate Crimes and Law Enforcement” featured the Charlottesville, Virginia, chief of police, a Carnegie Mellon alumna. Finally, participants engaged in structured conversation on addressing issues that lead to hate crimes in afternoon “World Café” dialogues.

CRS began providing conflict resolution services to the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General in 2018 to address allegations of anti-Semitism in Ocean County. In FY 2019, the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General requested that CRS continue addressing tensions between the growing Orthodox Jewish community and other community groups. According to Jewish community members in Ocean County, conflict increased due to an ongoing series of bias incidents involving anti-Semitic remarks targeting Jewish community members, including anti-Semitic posts on social media. These incidents coincided with an increase in the population of Jewish residents in the area.

Following CRS consultation services during summer 2019, a working group with the New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and other state officials, a local prosecutor’s office and Jewish community leaders formed to discuss allegations of anti-Semitism and general community relations in Ocean County.

During a CRS-facilitated working group session, Jewish community leaders and other community members agreed to hold a series of community dialogues to address communities’ concerns about anti-Semitism. The New Jersey Office of the Attorney General and other state officials committed to implementing and supporting community dialogue sessions throughout the county, both with CRS present and on their own using the CRS framework. CRS provided consultation services to both offices to help them grow their internal capacity to facilitate the dialogues.

Community leaders representing the Jewish, Christian, Latino, and African American communities, along with other civic leaders and school officials, met in early September 2019, for two CRS-facilitated community dialogues. Participants identified existing barriers to communication and cultural challenges. They also discussed ongoing concerns about rising anti-Semitism in the area and religious tensions, as well as strategies for building more positive relations in their communities.

Following the two September dialogues, the participants agreed to engage in additional CRS-facilitated community dialogues and to use the CRS dialogue process in their own communities.

In September 2018, four white male teenage vandals broke into a predominantly African American church in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. They wrote racist hate messages on the building and defaced Bibles inside the church. Police arrested all four of the teenagers in connection with the incident.

The incident resulted in heightened community interest in preventing hate crimes in two local counties. The following month, the pastor of the church requested CRS provide technical assistance and support in planning a Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum. CRS developed a planning group for the forum and convened members that formed the “Community Action Committee of Murfreesboro” (CAC). The CAC members included representatives from state, county, and local university law enforcement, interfaith leaders, and youth leadership organizations.

CRS provided ongoing consultation to the planning group from October 2018 to March 2019, when the forum was conducted on a local university campus. Nearly 150 people attended the March 2019 PPOW forum that included speakers from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Tennessee (USAO-MDTN); Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI); Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF); Tennessee Attorney General’s Office; a local prosecutor’s office; and local and campus law enforcement officials. The CAC received commitments from forum participants and area faith leaders to participate as presenters or panelists at future forums. After receiving CRS support, the CAC can now independently plan and facilitate PPOW forums to help faith communities learn about securing their places of worship and strengthen relationships with law enforcement agencies.

On April 27, 2019, on Shabbat and the final day of Passover, a gunman opened fire inside the Chabad of Poway synagogue, killing one worshiper and wounding three others. The attack struck fear in Southern California’s Jewish faith communities already attempting to recover from a bias-motivated arson at nearby mosque in Escondido. In addition, tensions in Poway’s faith communities were already elevated due to the Christchurch, New Zealand, mosque shooting the prior month and the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that happened exactly six months prior to the attack in Poway.

In the attack’s aftermath, community members asked CRS to help with their efforts to strengthen community safety, especially in and around places of worship, and to find long-term solutions so congregants could worship safely. Poway community members sought a space to heal from the attacks and opportunities to address their safety concerns while protecting places of worship in interfaith and faith-specific settings.

Soon after the Poway shooting, law enforcement connected one alleged attacker to both the shooting and the arson through online posts in which he took responsibility for both crimes and claimed inspiration from the Pittsburgh and New Zealand incidents.

In early May 2019, CRS convened the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California (USAO-SDCA), Muslim community leaders, local mosque leaders, and interfaith coalition members to assess community tensions, identify concerns, and share best practices for addressing hate crimes and protecting houses of worship. CRS worked as part of the Federal government’s interagency response to the shooting, which involved the USAO-SDCA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and other federal and state agencies.

San Diego area interfaith communities agreed to host a Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes forum. Dialogue participants believed that the region’s strong interfaith communities and increased ability to respond to hate crimes would lead to a successful program. The August 2019 forum, led by the USAO-SDCA, in conjunction with local Muslim community members and interfaith coalition, brought together the region’s interfaith communities to increase their local capacity to prevent and respond to hate crimes.

Resources for You

Toolkit: Working with Religious Groups (PDF)

Engaging and Building Partnerships with Muslim Americans (PDF)

Engaging and Building Partnerships with Sikh Americans (PDF)

School-Student Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (School-SPIRIT) (PDF)

City-Site Problem Identification and Resolution of Issues Together (City-SPIRIT) (PDF)

Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships (SPCP) (PDF)

Bias Incidents and Hate Crimes Forum (PDF)

Protecting Places of Worship (PDF)

Working with Muslim, Arab, Sikh, South Asian, and Hindu Communities (PDF)

Additional Resources and Informational Videos

Updated December 27, 2023