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Protecting houses of worship against arson

Federal authorities are going all out to educate churches and other houses of worship about the threat of arson they face.

As part of that effort, the U.S. Fire Administration, a branch of FEMA, has designated May 7-13 as Arson Awareness Week, with a deliberate focus this year on church arson.


“Arson against houses of worship is a significant problem for our diverse faith communities,” said Beth Drake, U.S. attorney for South Carolina, in a letter to Bishop L. Jonathan Holston. “There were an average of 103 such arsons per year from 2000 to 2015.

“Half of all fires at houses of worship involve arson.”

The Department of Justice has prosecuted many arsons, threats and attempted bombings against houses of worship. Cases in recent years include:

  • The prosecution of three men for burning down an African-American Pentecostal Church in Springfield, Massachusetts, leading to multi-year sentences for each defendant
  • A guilty plea leading to a 20-year sentence in the arson of a Toledo, Ohio, mosque
  • The ongoing prosecution of a man accused of plotting to bomb a synagogue in Aventura, Florida, last year.

Drake’s office is encouraging houses of worship to work with law enforcement to create an environment in which they can reduce the chances that a worship center is targeted, and in the event an arson takes place, the potential for damage and injury is minimized.

Churches interested in defending themselves against arson and spreading the word about safety can download and use these materials:

In addition, the Department of Homeland Security’s Protective Security Advisor will visit places of worship and conduct security reviews and recommendations, including arson risk as well as active shooter and other risks. For more information about PSAs, click here.

To get in touch with the closest PSA, contact the DHS National Infrastructure Coordinating Center at 202-282-9201 or NICC@hq.dhs.gov.

Churches also can contact Drake’s office for more information at 803-929-3061 or beth.drake@usdoj.gov.


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