The Justice Department today announced that its Civil Rights Division is partnering with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration on this year’s Arson Awareness Week, May 7-13, with a focus on Preventing Arson at Houses of Worship.
There were an average of 103 arsons of houses of worship per year from 2000 to 2015. Half of all reported fires at houses of worship turn out to involve arson.
The Department of Justice enforces a number of federal statutes protecting places of worship from attack, including 18 U.S.C. § 247, known as the Church Arson Prevention Act, which was passed in the 1990s in response to a sharp increase in church arsons. That law makes it a federal crime to target religious property because of the religion or race of the congregation. In February of this year, the Department indicted an Idaho man under § 247 alleging that he set fire to a Catholic Church in Bonner’s Ferry in April 2016. In 2013, an Indiana man was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for setting a fire at the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo.
FEMA and the Department of Justice have produced a number of materials to help congregations, community organizations and local law enforcement and fire safety officials to increase arson awareness and hold events highlighting proactive steps that can be taken to try to reduce house of worship arson. These materials are available at the Arson Awareness Week homepage, www.usfa.fema.gov/aaw.
“Arson against houses of worship is a serious crime that the Department of Justice is committed to prosecuting to the fullest extent of the law,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Tom Wheeler of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “But our role as prosecutors, while critically important, only comes after the fact when the damage is already done. That is why we encourage communities and local officials to take proactive steps to increase public awareness of the problem and measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of being a victim of house of worship arson.”
Further information about hate crimes, including arsons against on places of worship, is available at the Civil Rights Division hate crimes page, https://www.justice.gov/crt/hate-crimes-0.