Public Safety

'Protecting Places of Worship' forum includes federal, local law enforcement Tuesday

U.S. Attorney's Office, FBI, Homeland Security among presenters

Peter Deegan discusses his then-new role as the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Iowa in his office Sept. 22, 2017, at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Deegan’s office, along with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission and Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, is hosting a forum on “Protecting Places of Worship” on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
Peter Deegan discusses his then-new role as the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Iowa in his office Sept. 22, 2017, at the federal courthouse in Cedar Rapids. Deegan’s office, along with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission and Inter-Religious Council of Linn County, is hosting a forum on “Protecting Places of Worship” on Tuesday, Oct. 22, at the Cedar Rapids Public Library. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Todd Thalblum, rabbi at Temple Judah in Cedar Rapids, wants the synagogue to be a welcoming place while also ensuring the safety of the congregation.

Thalblum said in the past year, temple leaders have been working to put together updated safety plans.

“We don’t want to have so many plans we’re scaring people,” Thalblum said. “Our priority is inclusion and welcome.”

Thalblum will be a panelist during “Protecting Places of Worship,” a forum addressing hate crimes, responding to active shooters and best security practices.

The event is being hosted by Peter Deegan Jr., U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, along with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission and the Inter-Religious Council of Linn County. The forum will be from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cedar Rapids Public Library’s Whipple Auditorium.

Speakers will include Assistant U.S. Attorney Tony Morfitt, Linn County Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden and FBI Special Agent Jim McMillan, along with representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Department of Homeland Security.

Participants will be given a resource guide with contact information for local enforcement officers and other security measures. There also will be information on how places of worship can invest in added security.

Bernard Walther, investigator with the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, said the event is meant to give religious leaders and members of religious spaces tips for how they can feel safe in their place of worship.

Walther said the goal is to spur more discussion within places of worship between religious leaders and congregants about security protocols.

“Hopefully, this event will be able to better inform them when they’re making decisions,” Walther said.

Deegan said there is a “real desire” for more information about security in religious centers. Iowans, in particular, are doers, he said.

“They don’t want to sit down and wait. They don’t want to be reactive or paralyzed by fear. They want to take an active role in their safety. That’s what’s driving this effort,” Deegan said.

Deegan said a big concern he hears from religious leaders is how to ensure safety while also remaining welcoming religious centers.

“Religious leaders have ideas about how to achieve that balance,” Deegan said. “Everything from traditional security measures like locks and cameras to having a more robust presence at the entrance to keep an eye on who is coming and going. A lot of it comes down to the individual choices and decisions of faith leaders.”

Deegan and his office held a forum on protecting places of worship in Sioux City in April and had “tremendous success,” he said.

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The Sioux City event was standing room only with over 100 people in attendance representing Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths, among others.

Comments: (319) 368-8664; grace.king@thegazette.com

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