The Louisville Metro Police Department will host a forum this week about securing houses of faith, after recent shootings in a Pittsburgh synagogue and Louisville grocery store have rocked some congregations’ sense of safety.
In Pittsburgh, a shooter killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue after reportedly yelling “All Jews must die.” A few days before that, a shooter tried to get into a predominantly-black church in Louisville. He couldn’t, because of the church’s security and went to a nearby Kroger and killed two people. Both incidents are being investigated as hate crimes.
Responding to the Pittsburgh shooting, President Donald Trump said an armed guard in the synagogue could have stopped the shooter. Many have rejected that idea, but regardless, local religious congregations are trying to figure out what level of security is appropriate.
Rabbi Robert Slosberg said he’s already changing his building’s security. Slosberg is the rabbi at Louisville’s Adath Jeshurun synagogue, which is a sister congregation to Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue.
“I never would’ve thought that I would have the security concerns that I now have,” Slosberg said. “I mean, It very well could’ve been me and my synagogue who were murdered.”
Slosberg said his synagogue installed security in the 1990s after a terror threat, and the congregation normally reviews their security once a year. But this year, they launched an early security review after the Pittsburgh shooting, and Slosberg says they’re already changing safety measures there.
“Whenever you have a terror attack in a religious institution, there’s a tremendous feeling of insecurity,” Slosberg said. “It sort of pushes you to look deep within and to ask questions you may not have asked in a while.”
His congregation isn’t the only one feeling insecure.
Before the alleged Louisville shooter shot and killed two at Kroger, he tried to get into the First Baptist Church of Jeffersontown — a predominantly black church. He couldn’t get in because the doors were locked. Church Administrator Billy Williams said he upgraded his church’s security after the 2015 shooting of a historically black church in Charleston, South Carolina; that’s also the case at Joshua Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church in Louisville’s Russell neighborhood.
But now, Williams and David Snardon at Joshua Tabernacle are thinking about paying for another security upgrade.
Both churches now have cameras inside and outside of their buildings. The First Baptist church has a uniformed security officer, and a sign reads “gun free zone” outside the Joshua Tabernacle church. But Snardon said he’s concerned upgrading security could change how congregations preach.
“The other thing you could do is have so much safety [that] you become like Fort Knox, and that’s just not who we are as the church,” Snardon said. “We don’t want to be so guarded that we prohibit people from even getting in.”
Still, Snardon plans to attend the LMPD forum, which is scheduled for Thursday, November 8. He said there are models for balancing openness and worship; congregations just need to find it.
“We’ve already put some things in place, and we’re willing to do whatever we need to do to in order to ensure that people are safe,” Snardon said.
LMPD Spokesperson Jessie Halladay said the police department’s forum is reserved for people working in houses of faith, and is a chance for congregations to ask questions if they’re concerned about their building’s security.