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Department Of Justice Teaches Sioux City Religious Groups About Protecting Their Places Of Worship

Amy Mayer
IPR file
The forum was aimed at helping people understand best security practices and the laws that protect them and their places of worship.

Dozens of people in Sioux City turned out for a forum on protecting places of worship Thursday. The forum focused on a wide range of things from religious discrimination to active shooter training.
Staff from the U.S. Department of Justice wanted people to leave the forum understanding best security practices and the laws that protect them and their places of worship. The U.S. Attorney’s Office, the FBI and others gave safety recommendations and spoke about the laws that protect places of worship against violence, including the First Amendment and civil rights laws.

“If they know about these laws, they are better equipped to be able to know when something is not quite right, call law enforcement and try to get some help,” said Peter Deegan, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.

Deegan said the evening was all about teaching people to be prepared for an attack on a place of worship and look at ways to prevent them. Just last Sunday, more than 300 people were killed in Sri Lanka during a series of bombings at churches and hotels.

Protecting places of worship is a priority for his office because they fall under protected civil rights in the First Amendment of the Constitution, he said.

“And these types of violent attacks on houses of worship really can capture the attention of the community and really strike fear in the hearts of everyone,” Deegan said. “So I think it’s particularly important that we focus on this particular area and try to make sure we’re doing everything we can to get the word out that there are laws…”

Rabbi Guy Greene of Congregation Beth Shalom says recent attacks, like the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue last fall, make protecting his congregants a priority. Staff are looking at ways to make Congregation Beth Shalom more secure.

“The majority of people come at one time, to the High Holidays,” Greene said. “Even though we have police security during the High Holidays – Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur – there’s still many, many people coming, so it’s important we do it before the High Holidays.”

During the forum, some people spoke about measures they’ve already implemented to protect their church, mosque, temple or another place of worship.

Pastor Dell Olivier of Augustana Lutheran Church in Sioux City mentioned they have buckets of things in the church to throw at an attacker to distract them. Some members of the church went to a presentation from the Sioux City Police Department a couple of years ago, where they got the idea.

The buckets are usually equipped with a hammer, wasp spray and even bean bags, he told IPR.

“Not necessarily so lethal, but…making that distraction so that maybe somebody can be calling 911, somebody else can be getting around, tackling him down, whatever,” Olivier said, “doing what we can to protect our most vulnerable – our oldest people and our youngest.”

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Iowa and the Sioux City Human Rights Commission hosted the forum. Deegan said they hope to host a similar forum in eastern Iowa.

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.