Church Arsons and the Prevention Act – 1996

Approximately five years ago, Mt. Zion church in Greeleyville, South Carolina burned down. Though it is believed to have been a lightning strike that burned the church, it was not the first experience church members had with rebuilding after a fire. Back in 1995-1996, during a rash of church arsons, the church building had been set ablaze by a pair of Ku Klux Klan members.

One hundred forty-five of the bombings or fires set in 1995 and 1996 targeted African American (black) churches, and 207 white churches were also bombed or burned during the same time frame. The most prolific arsonist, with two companions, was believed to have burned 50 of those churches as part of satanic cult ritual.

Twenty-four years ago on July 3, (1996) the Church Arson Prevention Act was passed, which made it illegal to deface, damage, or destroy religious property or interfere substantially with religious practice. Due the to number of black churches affected for racial reasons, it was noted that such actions taken for reasons of the race or ethnicity of the people associated with that property were included in the law. The law increased the maximum sentence to deter this kind of destruction.

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