Jackson, Miss - The U.S. Department of Justice and its Civil Rights Division has partnered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s U.S. Fire Administration to promote Arson Awareness Week 2017 (May 7-13), with a focus on preventing arson at houses of worship. An average of 103 arsons of houses of worship occurred per year from 2000 to 2015.
In coordination with Arson Awareness Week, The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi organized an assessment at a local house of worship which included the Department of Homeland Security's Protective Security Advisor who conducted security reviews and offered recommendations about arson, active shooter and other risks.
The Justice Department 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. Arson cases in recent years include the prosecution of three men for burning down an African-American Pentecostal Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, which led to multi-year sentences for each defendant; a guilty plea leading to a 20-year sentence in the arson of a Toledo, Ohio mosque; and the ongoing prosecution of a man accused of plotting to bomb a synagogue in Aventura, Florida last year.
FEMA and the Department of Justice have materials available 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.