Service What?!?

I worked with, then for Jeff Kowell for many years. It was Jeff who I called on 12/09/2007 to urge us to go to a higher level of threat readiness that day before services began. Jeff was the team lead in those days, and was promoted to the staff position of the Director of Life Safety at New Life Church after the homicides there.

Jeff now has a blogsite that I hope every one of my readers will become a member of. This is a website of real perspectives from a seasoned and clear veteran in the ways of church security. You can find his blog at  

Jeff recently wrote on a subject I have been asked about many times. His article appears below.

By Jeff Kowell. 2/14/17;

Service animals. Warning: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV. I think service animals are incredible. These highly trained animals are literally life changing for those who benefit from owning one.

It’s the hundreds of people who abuse the rules and who use any excuse to bring their pets into places where they do not belong that have eclipsed these facts. It’s directly related to the ‘me-centric’ culture that has invaded our society and churches. These people take what was meant to be a blessing and have made it onerous for those in church security/safety ministries who are trying to keep peace and order in our fellowships.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) contains tens of thousands of pages of laws, rules and exceptions that make it overly complicated and almost impossible to manage and enforce. Big bureaucracy at its biggest and best!

Frequently, I get questions regarding service animals in the church.  I’ve included a definition and Q&A (from ADA Commonly asked Questions) that covers service animals:


Q34. Are churches, temples, synagogues, mosques, and other places of worship required to allow individuals to bring their service animals into the facility?

A. No.  Religious institutions and organizations are specifically exempt from the ADA.  However, there may be State laws that apply to religious organizations. (


Q: What is a service animal?

A: The ADA defines a service animal as any guide dog, signal dog, or other animal individually trained to provide assistance to an individual with a disability. If they meet this definition, animals are considered service animals under the ADA regardless of whether they have been licensed or certified by a state or local government.

Service animals perform some of the functions and tasks that the individual with a disability cannot perform for him or herself. Guide dogs are one type of service animal, used by some individuals who are blind. This is the type of service animal with which most people are familiar. But there are service animals that assist persons with other kinds of disabilities in their day-to-day activities. Some examples include:

  • Alerting persons with hearing impairments to sounds.
  • Pulling wheelchairs or carrying and picking up things for persons with mobility impairments.
  • Assisting persons with mobility or balance impairments.

A service animal is NOT a pet.

Since we serve in a church/place of worship, and not a place of business, the church is exempt from the ADA guidelines and listed as ‘not covered’ by the ADA and US Code.  One reason the church is legally exempt from the ADA is due to the separation of church and state. The ADA reflects this and there is plenty of legal precedent supporting this.

[NOTICE: The only exception would be if the church opened their facilities for a public event, such as voting, or a performance / bazaar / fair or pancake supper where items are sold and the general public is permitted to enter.]

Therefore, when we see someone with an animal we are able to ask him or her to remove the animal.  This is especially true in the instance of service animals ‘in training’ or comfort animals.  Comfort animals are not covered under the provisions of the ADA anyway. A service animal is a dog that is trained to perform specific tasks that the owner cannot or, has difficulty performing themselves, this includes picking up items, pulling a wheelchair or alerting when a person has a seizure. These are not pets. The dogs should remain under control of the owner at all times and must be leashed.

Use discretion here, and make sure our policies should be targeted at abusers only, but understand we have the freedom to limit this activity without repercussion.  Example: Recent Colorado Law (2017) makes it a criminal offense to misrepresent a service animal.

We can ask people the purpose of the animal and what it is trained for. If the animal is not leashed, is misbehaving, making a mess or barking we should ask that the animal be removed. ‘Comfort animals’ are another potential abuse of the system that should be watched for.

In spite of the fact that we can refuse to admit any animals into our churches, we have to remember why we are here and what the intent of our ministry in the church is – to be the Body of Christ and make disciples of all nations (not necessarily to be ‘nice’ to everyone). You need to consider how your church leadership feels about this subject. Give your leaders clear and concise information so they can make a decision on what is best for the church as a whole. There may be some churches where any and all animals are allowed and the leaders do not want to be confrontational with anyone. Other churches will have a different sense of what is appropriate and will want you to restrict animal access to your church. In either case you have your ‘marching orders’!

Our goal in church security/safety ministries is to create a safe environment where people can gather, worship and fellowship in the Name of Jesus Christ.  So, even if we are legally in the clear with regards to allowing any animals in the church, I encourage each of you to target your efforts to removing all disruptive influences, with or without animals.

May God grant you the peace, wisdom and discernment in your efforts to navigate the muddy waters of this issue, as well as in all other things.

Peace and strength in Jesus!

Think About it

Knowing Jeff personally as I do, I hear his pastor’s heart in every line. He truly loves people, but has no tolerance for knuckleheads. He walks that fine line about as well as anyone I know. If you are going to be a knucklehead trying to make a statement, don’t try it with someone like Jeff in the leadership role of the team!

Everyone needs to have a clear understanding of ADA. I would say that this was not a legal opinion, nor is what I say following. There are 5 titles under the ADA. I would not personally say that ADA is not applicable to Houses of Worship, but I would agree that title 3 (Public Accommodations) of the ADA is not (there is clear exclusionary language in the document itself applicable to houses of worship). Be careful with the other titles – especially Title 1 (Employment) as I have seen attorney opinions stating Title 1 is applicable to any 501(c)(3) including Houses of Worship. But like Jeff said, “I’m not a lawyer and I don’t play one on TV.”

Don’t forget to check your state statutes and regional codes related to the ADA. There are often state or regional supplements to Federal codes that might carry a different meaning. But if, in your research verified by a legal opinion, your area has the same legal guidelines as Colorado does, you have your marching orders as Jeff said.

And please do make it a point to visit Jeff’s informative website on a regular basis!


And last week’s TAI …

The Stolen Child

Across 6th Street from the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama is a park. On the corner of the park closest to the church, statues of four little girls beckoned me across.

We know their story.

Three of the girls are cast forever onto a bench. One stands off to the side gesturing for the others to follow her to an eternal destiny.

They are all frozen in time, and burned into the fabric of our nation’s history. A stark reminder of how awful man can be to his fellow man (or even children).

At the end of the bench, part of their story is told,

“A Love That Forgives” The Sermon Marquee Proclaimed at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham Alabama on September 15th, 1963. A seemingly usual Sunday. However on this day at 10:22 am. Four young girls: three 14 year olds and one 11 year old were murdered by a bomb planted by the Klu Klux Klan.

At the other end of the bench, one of the girls is cast as if she is reading a book. I looked at what she was reading, then wrote it down,

The Stolen Child

Come away oh human child to the waters and the wild.

With a faery hand in hand.

For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

W. B. Yeats.

Three of the four girls were within 2 weeks of the same age. Addie May Collins was born on April 18th, 1949. Carole Rosamond Robertson was born on April 24th, 1949. Cynthia Diane Wesley was born on April 30th, 1949. The eleven-year-old killed that awful day was Carol Denise McNair who had been born on November 17th, 1951.

I attended the Sunday morning service there on 2/5/2017. I sat on the side of the church next to 16th Street. The side where the 4 little girls had gone through a door at the front of the congregational seating area 54 years ago. I walked down the stairs they would have disappeared down as they went to the girl’s restroom below not having any idea of the evil that was already planted just outside the wall.

Their parents never saw them alive again.

The people of the 16th Street Baptist Church welcomed me with genuine warmth. I could get used to their friendship. I will never get used to the evil which attacked them that day.


Think About it.

The mass murder (4 or more killed in a single incident) there in 1963 was the first mass murder at an American faith-based organization in 187 years of American liberty. The Mother Emanuel AME murders in Charleston was the 13th mass murder at an American faith-based organization.

I wish so bad we could say, “13 marked the end.” But we all know that isn’t the case. There will be more. Some were racial, some religious bias, robbery, domestic and just plain anger. All victims are just as dead regardless of the attacker’s motive.

Not one of those 13 places truly thought it would ever happen to them. The one I was involved in (YWAM / New Life Church) was the only one where a prepared team was ready. Even then we were not as ready as we should have been.

Racism is only one form of the evil unleashed on our churches from Satan himself. I am asking church security professionals everywhere to reach across the racial divide in your city and contact the security professionals from churches of other colors. Form true coalitions with your brothers and sisters in Christ, and even with those from different theological persuasions all together.

If you are black, and have never been in a white service, go. If you are white, and have never been in a black service, go.  Work together to keep evil out of the churches in your area, regardless of what motivation opens the door for that evil.

You might even find some new life-long friends who can challenge some predetermined opinions that are wrong and in need of correction.

And most of all you may prevent a child from being stolen from us.


And last week’s TAI …

Some Things are Worth Dying for

Some criticize the data on this site because it isn’t compiled the way they would compile it. Some think only homicides where the victims were actually members of the church should be listed. Others feel only attacks that are the result of some sort of issue against the church should be tracked. Some don’t like the fact that stories are carried involving attacks at some theology that differs from their own. Still others get wrapped around the gun axle (some on the right unhappy that the patterns show the majority of attack weapons are firearms – while some on the left think the statistics should only show gun violence).

The focus of the data is to provide sufficient information on what has happened to learn how to better protect the people at houses of worship and other faith-based organizations. It is the continuing saga of what happens to people at (or leading) faith-based organizations. Therefore, if a deadly force incident occurs at any faith-based organization, or an attack leaves the leader of such an organization dead (or a member of their family is killed), it is included. Violence with deadly potential that a faith-based security operator would be concerned about, is included.

One of the very first news stories I ever researched occurred prior to the 1999 start of posted data, and it didn’t even happen in America. To this day however, it is the story I often think of. Much of the way I track data is a result of that murder.

The 1992 story of Kristen French in St. Catherine’s, Ontario troubled me more than most, and still does. It became the model by which I would research. My hope for improved awareness and readiness in faith-based environments was (and remains) that stories like that of Kristen French would be kept rare. Her story is one of such depth, I will not attempt to retell it all in such a short article. However, her story caused me to examine vulnerabilities of faith-based environments in a more inclusive way.

She was simply walking home from school through a church parking lot (not her church, not during a service) when she was tricked, abducted, tortured and eventually killed by two of the cruelest murderers one can imagine.

Kristen’s last words (wickedly videotaped by the husband / wife murder team who took her) were, “some things are worth dying for” as she refused their worsening sexual demands. Then the husband of the vile pair slowly choked her to death on the bedroom floor as the wife blow-dried her own hair in the nearby bathroom.

If my work would ever be dedicated to any one person it would be that brave little 15-year old girl. Her story prompted the way I have researched and recorded deadly force incidents, and the release of this website more than any I ever studied. If I can help it, her death will never be in vain. The dangers we face often have NOTHING to do with our church or guns. But they still happen on our property and shame on us if we aren’t looking out for people on our properties.

Every morning finds me researching news related to faith-based operations from the day before. It started as research for the book – Evil Invades Sanctuary.

It turned into more than just information to serve as an endnote reference. I do not try to be the first to press with a story. The statistics are intended to be meaningful based on at least 30 days of investigative discovery after the incident.

Another year of data is finished – the numbers for 2016 are totaled.

Think About it,

No less than 65 people (I’ve no doubt I missed some) died a violent death at a church or faith-based organization last year. Year after year the violence is greater at churches than at schools.

There were no less than 246 incidents at U.S. FBO’s that had the potential for death (I’m sure I missed some), confirmed by arrests, injuries or investigations with no clues. This is down by only 2 from the year before which was the highest year ever.

Nobody died in a church fire last year. Not one person. Nor the year before, or the year before that. The last person to die in a church fire was on 11/26/13 when a man entered St. Paul’s by The Sea Episcopal Church, doused himself in gasoline and lit it off. He and the pastor died as a result of his criminal action.

How much money time and effort did we put into fire prevention, detection, notification and readiness last year? Yes, there were church structure fires last year and our fire prevention, detection, notification, readiness and response saved the insurance companies millions of dollars on loss payout for those structures and assets inside. So everyone’s happy yes?

How much money, time and effort did we put into attack prevention, detection, notification and readiness last year in order to protect our people?

Yes, Kristen, some things are worth dying for. Because of your story, churches everywhere are at least aware that bad things can and will happen on their property. And yes, we are improving our life safety readiness in churches all across North America. It’s still hard to get some to fund it, but they are getting the word and churches are safer now than they were on April 16th, 1992 when you were taken from that church parking lot.

This section is updated every Sunday morning to give church security teams some things to think about as they prepare for weekend services. I wish your team the very best and hope you may find occasional things applicable to your operations.

Copyright Notice: If you can use any material on this website to make churches or ministries safer, please do so. Please pass on the information as freely as it is given.

Think About it ...