There are signs that violence against churches in the US is on the rise, according the Family Research Council (FRC).
There were 69 acts of vandalism against US churches in the first quarter of 2023, up from 22 in the same period last year, and 15 in 2018, according to a report from the organisation.
Data for the first quarter of this year shows that most of the attacks occurred in January – 43 incidents. There were a further 14 in February and 12 in March.
They spanned 29 states and ranged from bomb threats and arson, to acts of vandalism. There were three gun-related incidents.
Vandalism accounted for most of the incidents covered by the report.
Cases cited by the FRC included Dellabrook Presbyterian Church in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, where vandals sprayed the sanctuary with a fire extinguisher.
At Holy Nation Church in Memphis, Tennessee, audio-visual equipment was stolen.
Jesus Is Alive World Reading Center in Reading, Pennsylvania, was badly damaged when vandals destroyed their sound equipment, a podium, stained-glass windows, a piano and the carpet.
A pipe bomb was discovered outside St Dominic Catholic Church in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
St Joseph’s Catholic Church in Missouri was spray-painted with the words “Trans PWR”, while another church in Riverview, Florida, was graffitied with the slogan “Womens body womens choice”.
The Family Research Council said, “Criminal acts of vandalism and destruction of church property are symptomatic of a collapse in societal reverence and respect for houses of worship and religion—in this case, churches and Christianity.
“Some people appear increasingly comfortable lashing out against church buildings, pointing to a larger societal problem of marginalizing core Christian beliefs, including those that touch on hot-button political issues related to human dignity and sexuality.
“The anger and division that increasingly characterize American society are endangering churches and eroding religious freedom.
“When congregants feel targeted by members of their communities or church buildings bear the brunt of outrage over political events, the very ability to live out one’s faith safely is under attack.
“Violent or destructive incidents that interfere with an individual’s lawful free exercise of religion at their house of worship present a significant nationwide challenge.”