The idea of churches being a sanctuary of sorts goes back several centuries, at least. In US law however, the idea of churches being a sanctuary does not exist. If you are hiding out in a church for any reason, legally, it’s meaningless.
As a practical matter, police have sometimes respected a church as a sanctuary, even though legally they have not been required to do so. Forcing your way into a church and brutally arresting someone in a place of worship doesn’t play well to the public.
Since there is no legal backing behind any of it, exactly what you can and can’t seek sanctuary for and for how long is going to vary quite a bit, depending on things like how religious folks are in that area, what the crime was, whether there is a hot political issue involved, and how much the local law enforcement officers are willing to tolerate.
I don’t think there is any legal basis to church sanctuary in any western country (just possible there might be jurisdiction issues somewhere like the UK where you still have legally recognized canon law).
It may happen in practice as it is not very good PR for the authorities to be filmed breaking into a church and dragging away a fugitive. For a crime like murder (where you would assume the public’s sympathies would lie with the authorities) they would have no problem pulling someone out of church.
Even in medieval times when church sanctuary was a recognized right, it being honored in serious cases was the exception not the rule. If someone the powers that be really wanted sought sanctuary in church (e.g. the losing side in a battle or rebellion) they would have no compunction about dragging them out and beheading them.
IIRC, the concept has to do with the local bishop having jurisdiction over the area around the cathedral. I recall reading about some serious disputes over this, for example in Salisbury in the middle ages. The wall around the cathedral denoted the line between civil and church justice, and the (local) civil authorities had no jurisdiction to come in and arrest someone in the church.
Plus, sanctuary, as in protection for being in a holy place, seems to be a concept that goes back much farther. When it works… just ask Thomas a Becket.
Plus he hadn’t gone there for protection.
Sanctuary was recognised much earlier in Greek and Roman temples’ asylums. Oddly, with the Greeks a slave could run there for ill-usage and the owner would have to agree to sell him/her. Kind of like running to Canada or Mexico in 19th century America.
As for the middle ages, the Yorkist leaders dragged out Lancastrian villains from Tewkesbury Abbey for fair trial. Which sounds pretty bad, but on the other hand they were Lancastrians.
There is also a related issue of the confessional, while not a physical sanctuary, it does provide emotional sanctuary as many priests regard the confessional as confidential. I do believe this confidentiality was at least once held up in court.
The canons of the Church of England do have the force of civil law in England. It’s just that they come fairly low down in the legal pecking order; they would be overridded by a general Act of Parliament. And, in any event, relevantly to the present thread they don’t contain any rule creating a right of sanctuary.
But try to, e.g., exhume one of your relatives from a churchyard and rebury them elsewhere, and you’ll run up against canon law.
Two words: Glenda Brawley. Tawana"I was raped" Brawley’s mother, who sought sanction in a church for quite a while. I remember Phil Donahue did a surprise live segment from the church with her three “advisors.”
1 Then the Lord said to Joshua: 2 “Tell the Israelites to designate the cities of refuge, as I instructed you through Moses, 3 so that anyone who kills a person accidentally and unintentionally may flee there and find protection from the avenger of blood. 4 When they flee to one of these cities, they are to stand in the entrance of the city gate and state their case before the elders of that city. Then the elders are to admit the fugitive into their city and provide a place to live among them. 5 If the avenger of blood comes in pursuit, the elders must not surrender the fugitive, because the fugitive killed their neighbor unintentionally and without malice aforethought. 6 They are to stay in that city until they have stood trial before the assembly and until the death of the high priest who is serving at that time. Then they may go back to their own home in the town from which they fled.”