"This level of violence is very disturbing. ... Churches are supposed to be sanctuaries," said Roy Wasden, president of the Modesto stake of the Mormon church.
The idea of churches as sanctuary is an ancient one. The Mosaic law let fugitives take refuge at the altar of God. The Jewish temple was a holy place where people could come to have priests atone for their sins.
England's law recognized the right of sanctuary - churches as the place people could be safe from arrest - from the fourth to 17th centuries. In medieval Europe, churches even gave sanctuary to convicted criminals.
In this country, although no U.S. laws support shielding people from the government, churches have provided sanctuary for escaped slaves, for Vietnam draft dodgers and for Central American immigrants in the 1980s fleeing brutal conditions and civil wars.