Utah law enforcement officials held a meeting with faith leaders this week to talk about protecting houses of worship from security threats.
The meeting at the Utah Cultural Celebration Center in West Valley City is part of a broader effort by the Department of Justice to better protect religious communities from violence. US Attorney for Utah John Huber hosted the event.
“Here in our sanctuaries of sanctuaries in Utah within the United States of America where tolerance is part of our mantra, we are not immune,” Huber says.
The event comes on the heels of numerous mass shootings across the country, but the trigger for these meetings was in June 2015, when nine people were murdered at the African Methodist Episcopal Church known as ‘Mother Emanuel’ in South Carolina.
“I mean things like Mother Emanuel do cause some concern, because we are a loving, open congregation; we are very diverse,” says Reverend Vinetta Golphin-Wilkerson of Granger Christian Church in West Valley City. “So anybody would walk in, we would welcome them. You know, we would sit them down, and we’d feed them, and we’d be all friendly, so anything can happen.”
Local and federal law enforcement officials offered advice about how to prevent attacks and be prepared in an emergency situation, from identifying vulnerabilities in facilities, training staff, and adding locks and video surveillance. Abdul Afridi is a trustee of the Islamic Society of Greater Salt Lake. He says they’ve taken steps to make the mosque a safe place, but they will remain open to all.
“Place of worship is the house of God,” Afridi says. “Why would you have special security and locks and those things for the house of God? Our gates are always open. We never lock them, but we are vigilant.”
Afridi says he and others at the mosque maintain close relationships with the FBI, local police and their West Valley neighbors. Law enforcement officials say that communication may be the best line of defense to securing the safety of the congregation.