Skip to main content

Protecting Places of Worship Forum

An image of a CRS Protecting Places of Worship Forum


The Protecting Places of Worship forum is a half-day session that provides faith-based leaders and congregations with information about religious hate crimes, state and federal hate crimes laws, law enforcement threat assessments, and ways to protect places of worship from potential hate crimes and other threats of violence. The program encourages the implementation of a security program, offers best practices for security, fosters networking and community outreach, and provides resources such as examples of security plans and community responses.

Program Goals

  • Identify best practices for protecting places of worship
  • Improve participants’ understanding of local, state, and federal hate crimes laws and ways to report alleged hate crimes
  • Build a faith-based working group tasked with working on safety and security issues
  • Identify federal, state, and local resources, programs, and tools to help protect/secure places of worship

Forum Includes the Following Components

  • Law enforcement experts provide an overview of federal and state hate crimes
  • Law enforcement experts provide an overview of hate crimes statistics and symbols
  • Law enforcement and security experts provide an overview of strategies to secure places of worship and prepare staff, clergy, and congregants for an active shooter situation

Case Highlights

In the fall of 2019, a local government representative contacted CRS following a spate of alleged anti-Semitic incidents, including instances where a group of men reportedly targeted and assaulted several Jewish men and boys while crossing the street and where a man hit a rabbi with a paving stone. According to a New York Police Department (NYPD) report, anti-Semitic hate crimes across New York City increased by 30% from 2018 to 2019, while overall hate crimes increased by 19%.

CRS met with representatives from the local Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) field office and interfaith leaders to form a planning group to address the incidents and improve dialogue between law enforcement and the community. CRS had previously communicated with local Jewish community organizations following an earlier attack on a Jewish man in September 2019 and reached out to them again. These organizations also joined the planning group. The group agreed to plan a CRS Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum. Additional participants joined the planning group, including the U.S. Attorney’s Office, state human rights office, and local human rights office.

In January 2020, city leaders hosted the PPOW forum, which provided the local interfaith community with opportunities for collaboration as well as resources and information regarding securing their places of worship. The forum included a discussion on hate crime prosecutions and investigations, an overview of the FBI’s active shooter response training, and a panel on strategies for protecting places of worship. Panelists at the PPOW included representatives from the federal and state law enforcement. More than 100 community members, including members of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim communities, attended the forum.

Forum participants asked panelists about the recent series of reported anti-Semitic attacks and federal, county, and local law enforcement representatives advised that their offices were investigating the attacks as hate crimes. Prosecutors ultimately filed hate crime charges in one of the incidents.

In March 2020, CRS facilitated a Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, to address local religious communities’ concerns regarding a national increase in religiously motivated hate crimes. Many Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh communities across the United States experienced fear after recent anti-Semitic events, including the October 2018 Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the Chabad-Lubavitch of Poway synagogue shooting outside San Diego, California, in April 2019.

In the fall of 2019, based on a long-standing relationship with CRS, government officials contacted CRS to request a PPOW forum. CRS worked with the community to form an interfaith planning group that included local Muslim, Jewish, and Christian faith leaders and advocates as well as government leaders, including officials from the commission and U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania (USAO-MDPA). CRS convened meetings of the planning group in January and February 2020 to help coordinate the forum, which also included representatives from the local community and education. Leaders of local religious organizations and members of the community in the working group were interested in learning more about creating a safe and secure environment for faith-based communities, information on how to report hate and bias incidents, and resources to help faith-based communities before and after hate and bias incidents.

Approximately 80 people attended the forum, which was hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg and held at the Jewish Community Center in Harrisburg. Panelists included representatives of Harrisburg’s Sikh, Muslim, Jewish, and Latino communities, and government agencies, including the USAO-MDPA, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Homeland Security Office of Infrastructure Protection, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, Pennsylvania State Police, and Harrisburg Police Department.

Panelists shared information about religion-based hate crimes, federal and state hate crimes laws, and how to conduct threat assessments and protect places of worship from bias incidents and hate crimes. The forum also fostered networking and community outreach and provided resources to participants, such as examples of security plans and community responses.

In August 2020, CRS conducted its first two virtual Protecting Places of Worship (PPOW) forums for a national audience. Rice University’s Boniuk Institute for Religious Tolerance, American Jewish Committee (AJC), and an interfaith coalition requested CRS services in response to concerns from faith communities regarding a rise in hate incidents and cases of vandalism directed at places of worship.

During the summer of 2020, media reports highlighted vandalism cases targeting mosques, synagogues, and churches throughout the nation, including in Florida, New York, Michigan, and Texas. The vandalism involved smashing windows, spray-painting hate speech and swastikas, and damaging religious statues. Earlier in the year, CRS had formed a working group with the Boniuk Institute, AJC, and two other faith-based organizations to address communities’ concerns over anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Catholicism. CRS provided the community leaders with best practices and information on preventing and responding to hate crimes directed at places of worship, including a description of the PPOW forum. Participants received information on government resources, programs, and tools to secure places of worship.

More than 240 individuals attended the two forums, which were open to all faith communities nationwide. Forum panelists included representatives from CRS, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of New Jersey. The panelists shared information on preventing and responding to bias incidents and hate crimes directed toward places of worship and best practices for collaboration among government, law enforcement, and faith communities. The panelists also discussed hate crime laws, statistics, and case studies. The FEMA representative provided details on grant opportunities for places of worship seeking to bolster security. Following the presentations, CRS facilitated a question-and-answer session where audience members asked about hate crimes reporting procedures, best practices for prevention, and tips for working together with interfaith and law enforcement agencies.

In November 2019, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Montana (USAO-MT) and Bozeman and Gallatin County faith leadership requested CRS services to address community tension following a series of religion-based bias incidents and racial hate incidents in the community. The request stemmed from several incidents that had occurred earlier in the year. First, in January 2019, a Black and Native American biracial couple’s car had been spray-painted with racial epithets. In addition, in March 2019, Montana State University discovered a sticker promoting a neo-Nazi group on its campus. Then, in August 2019, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s office received a call about anti-religion graffiti at the Three Forks Methodist Church that read “666” and “God is dead.” The community became concerned that the vandalism and the presence of hate groups might escalate to a violent hate crime.

In response, CRS facilitated a Protecting Places of Worship forum in March 2020 for 30 Bozeman and Gallatin County faith leaders and community members. Panelists included representatives from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, USAO-MT, Gallatin County Attorney’s Office, Bozeman Police Department, Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office, and statewide faith leaders, who provided information ranging from facts about hate crimes prosecutions to church-to-church assistance in response to hate targeting and responding to active shooter situations.

Following the forum, attendees asked federal partners for assistance developing safety plans for their places of worship. CRS coordinated with the Montana field office of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, which provided a virtual training in May 2020 on developing the individualized plans based on needs and resources available. In addition, faith leaders began meeting monthly to develop strategies, such as scheduling community meetings, to prevent and respond to anti-religion hate targeting in their community.

More Information

Protecting Places of Worship (PDF)

Additional Resources and Informational Videos

Updated January 2, 2024