Study Uncovers Dangers to Religious Properties Around the World

Each year, the number of religious properties attacked continues to grow. Examples of religious properties being attacked vary. However, it can include overturned headstones in Jewish cemeteries, broken windows in mosques, fires at holy sites, and vandalism. These attacks can also be on individuals connected to religious organizations.

In June 2023, Pew Research compiled a list of these attacks, which “not only cause physical damage but also can have lasting psychological effects on religious communities.”

Pew emphasized that most of these religious property attacks occurred in the year 2020, stating that it often takes two or three years for public officials to designate an incident as a religious-related attack.

Further, the researchers reported there is no reliable way of learning about every incident, so they do not try to count the total number of cases.

Rather, we track the number of countries in which at least one incident is reliably reported each year, using approximately twenty publicly available, widely cited sources, including the U.S. Department of State’s annual Reports on International Religious Freedom

Here is what their research uncovered:

Europe has the greatest number of countries experiencing religious related attacks. 

Of forty-five countries analyzed, 76 percent recorded at least one incident – primarily property damage or confiscation – that was religious-related. Vandalism of cemeteries was common and impacted most all religious groups. In Serbia, perpetrators painted swastikas in Jewish cemeteries, and pro-abortion groups defaced some Catholic churches.

Of the twenty countries involved in the study in the Middle East and parts of Africa, 60 percent reported religious property attacks. 

Many of these religious properties attacks are incidents that were carried out by state governments. For instance, in Saudi Arabia, authorities demolished a Shiite Mosque and Shiite graves in 2020. Israel and Palestine experienced several attacks by state and private individuals.

 In Asia, about half of the fifty countries involved in the study reported some form of attack on religious properties. 

In some cases, these were the homes of Hindu residents in conflict with local Muslims. Christian churches were also targeted because there were making (false) allegations, they were converting Hindus and Muslims to Christianity. Pakistan and Sri Lanka also reported mob violence against different religious facilities.

In North and South America, 43 percent of the countries included in the research experienced some form of religious attack.

In Cuba, for instance, a Baptist church was destroyed for being unauthorized, and another was razed, likely because the pastor was at odds with the government. Further, cemeteries were vandalized in the U.S., Argentina, and Canada, and a synagogue and Buddhist temples were defaced. Religious-related properties belonging to Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, and even atheists have experienced property attacks.

Stopping the Violence

Obviously, security measures are needed to protect these facilities and the people associated with these religious organizations. Here are among the steps TAL Global suggest taking as quickly as possible:

  • Facility security assessments should be conducted to establish a security baseline and identify gaps in protection that need attention.
  • Facility security plans for each facility should be created. No two facilities are the same.
  • Security and situational awareness training should be provided all employees, volunteers, and members.
  • Emergency contingency should be considered, and procedures/policy established.
  • A liaison with first responders should be established prior to needing tier support.
  • An assessment of possible risk should be conducted to identify the likelihood and consequence of risks faced by the organization and how these can be mitigated.

We must add one more thing, something that has evolved into the tagline for TAL Global, and that is this: Stay Alert and Stay Safe.

Simply remembering this tagline is the first step in ensuring you, church administrators, and your congregation are security focused.

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© TAL Global, 2019