Terre Haute community leaders host a forum on protecting places of worship

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Mike Ellis with St. George Orthodox Church in Terre Haute says far too often he sees other churches or places of worship around the country being the target of hatred and crimes.

“All around the country we’re finding that churches are being bombed and burned, and a lot of destruction going on for no apparent reason,” Ellis said.

Seeing these types of crimes done to other places of worship has already made leaders at St. George’s take measures to protect those who come to their building.  

“We’ve taken some precautions as far as putting blinds up on all the windows around the Sunday school area, safety locks on some of the doors, we’re thinking about installing some cameras,” Ellis said.

To help other places of worship start thinking about their safety, Friday, the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission along with the interfaith council of the Wabash Valley hosted a protecting places of worship forum. It was an event where local elected officials and law enforcement, plus members from the FBI and United States Department of Justice spoke to religious leaders about the prevention of threats.

“This is kind of our response to the violence that we heard that is going on around the world to places of worships. So we thought it was a timely event to bring to Terre Haute, so that we can maybe prevent this kind of violence from happening in our community,” said Melissa Reed, director of the Terre Haute Human Relations Commission.

Some of the tips that were shared to help prevent this violence includes using cameras and locks on buildings, but Sergeant Justin Sears with the Terre Haute Police Department says people need to also consider what to do if a threat is present.

“We typically discuss the theory of run, hide, and fight, and basically we want people to not be a victim, prepare themselves, always know where they’re at, know their surroundings,” Sears said.

Sears says every safety measure may not apply to all places of worship but even if religious leaders can learn just one new way to protect their worshipers, this event was a success.

“Maybe they can take just one or two things that we’ve brought to them that will help make them safer, or their church safer, then that’s a win,” Sears said.

Sears also says this event should not cause paranoia and people should still enjoy themselves, but he says it is very important to be aware of your surroundings in case of an emergency.

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