The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), a branch of FEMA, hosted its annual Arson Awareness Week from May 7, 2017 to 13, 2017. This year’s theme was “Preventing Arson at Houses of Worship.” The Pew Research Center recently noted that, over the past several years and nationwide, 51% of reported fire incidents at faith-based locations were determined to be arson. As such, the United States Attorney's Office for the Southern District of Alabama is encouraging our local religious communities to get involved and take measures to reduce the risk of becoming victims of arson by including resources on our webpage.
The principal arson statute is 18 U.S.C. 81. However, the statute that deals with arson at faith-based locations is 18 U.S.C. 247(a)(1), which consists of the following criteria that must be met:
- Defaced, damaged or destroyed;
- Religious real property;
- Acted because of the religious character of the property; and
- Crime in or affected interstate/foreign commerce
Should you believe that an arson has occurred, please contact your local law enforcement officials, your local fire department, our office, or the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) for assistance. The Department of Homeland Security's Protective Security Advisor Program (PSA) also offers assistance to houses of worship by conducting arson and security reviews. You may contact the DHS National Infrastructure Coordinating Center at (202) 282-9201 to learn about the closest PSA.
Please see the attached resources for guidance on preventing arson at faith-based institutions: