The UK government has opened a consultation to know the public’s opinion on making it mandatory for houses of worship to set up new security measures to prevent terror attacks.
A new anti-terrorism legislation, called “Protect Duty,” aims to make public spaces safer and protected from a “multifaceted, diverse and continually evolving” terror threat. It would make sure that threats are properly assessed and the recommended security measures are implemented, reports Premier Christian News.
Security Minister James Brokenshire promised that “Protect Duty” would involve minimal new costs and would be tailored to different needs. He explained that some churches may already have security in place and any new measures would help prevent other types of anti-social behavior such as theft or vandalism.
The government’s Protect Duty consultation document states that publicly accessible locations, such as a church, are a potential target, so it is “essential that the owners and operators of all such locations understand the risks they face and consider appropriate mitigation.”
The move came about after the death of Martyn Hett in the Manchester Arena attack in 2017. Hett’s mother, Figen, introduced “Martyn’s Law” which aims to legislate for a duty on those who own or manage publicly accessible places to take actions to reduce the threat of terrorism.
While the legislation seems beneficial to the public, church leaders expressed concern over the additional burden on pastors, deacons, volunteers and other staff. Under Protect Duty, security measures might include training courses, refresher training programs and enhanced security on buildings such as door locks and roller shutters.
The Archdeacon of London, the Ven. Luke Miller, warned that the new legislation could have unintended consequences for churches, reports Church Times. He said imposing new security measures is costly. Small organizations will not be able to afford security training courses and a policy as simple as the checking of bags upon entry is difficult to implement in houses of worship. How would the church deal with a parishioner who refuses to be searched? He stressed that training and knowledge are required for such situations.
Archdeacon Miller feared that smaller churches which could not comply with the legislation would instead opt to close their doors to the public. “If just one church which would otherwise have opened for individual prayer or visiting were to close as a result of this, the terrorist would have had a major success.”
The duty places additional burdens on church staff and volunteers, continued Miller. He argued that the proposals are vague about the limits of those who would require training.
The consultation is open to the public and Archdeacon Miller urged places of worship and faith communities to respond and let their views about these responsibilities be heard.