St. Matthew Catholic Church, one of the largest Catholic churches in America, sent an urgent message to its parishioners Friday that the church is adding multiple safety measures to its campus. The safety measures will include uniformed and plain-clothes police officers at all weekend Masses along with hired security guards, Monsignor John J. McSweeney told parishioners in a memo emailed Friday. The Charlotte church is also banning a list of 15 items in all worship halls. They include: large bags, backpacks, diaper bags, laptops, computer cases, luggage, video equipment, laser pointers, baby strollers, and anything that can conceal items or that clergy and staff determine poses a security hazard. The church has already added cameras throughout its sprawling campus. The new measures, McSweeney said, were approved by the church’s safety awareness team. He told the Observer that the measures aren’t a reaction, but “a proactive piece of planning we have for security.” “This may sound restrictive, but I feel it is important,” he said. “Our philosophy is that this is a parish that is welcoming and hospitable. However, based on what is nationally being experienced and the terrorist events in the world, I believe we have the moral responsibility to protect anyone coming here.”
From the suburbs of Los Angeles to the outskirts of Washington, D.C., mosques around the United States are warily stepping up security in the face of growing fears about reprisals on American Muslims.
The increasing safety concerns described by American Islamic leaders – and the steps they are taking in response, including hiring armed guards – represent the flip side of the rising public anxiety about Islamic State-inspired terror after attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California. The call by Republican presidential contender Donald Trump to ban Muslims from entering the United States only amplified concerns about an anti-Islamic backlash at mosques and community centers, religious leaders and organizers say. At least two mosques – one in Phoenix and the other in suburban Virginia – are working with the Department of Homeland Security to check up on the security their facilities provide for worshippers in recent weeks. Others report taking a range of steps, including hiring armed guards, because of fears that an American mosque could be a target for an attack. “We are always concerned about lone wolf attacks,” said Usama Shami, president of a Phoenix mosque that has been working with the Department of Homeland Security to review its security measures since the Paris attack last month. Over the weekend, police arrested a 23-year-old man suspected of setting a fire at a Southern California mosque in what authorities are describing as a hate attack, following the massacre of 14 people in San Bernardino on Dec. 2 by a Muslim couple, U.S.-born Syed Rizwan Farook, 28, and his Pakistani-born wife Tashfeen Malik, 29. Authorities have not said if the suspect was motivated by the shooting.