ADL ACTS IN RESPONSE TO BLACK CHURCH ARSONS; COMMENDS
PRESIDENT'S INITIATIVE ON FIRES THAT 'BURN AT THE FABRIC OF THIS COUNTRY'
New York, NY, June 11, 1996...The Anti-Defamation League (ADL)
today commended President Clinton on his "leadership and unequivocal
response to the rash of church arsons that literally and figuratively burn
at the fabric of this country." Concerned about the series of arsons,
the League has mobilized resources on many levels over the past several
months: urging investigations by the Justice Department, assisting victims
in local communities through the League's regional offices, and reviewing
existing hate crimes laws in the affected states to determine whether or
not they need to be revised in view of the incidents. Most recently, ADL
has taken a lead in promoting changes in federal legislation to make it
easier for authorities to investigate and prosecute attacks on churches.
"In this time of crisis," ADL National Chairman David H. Strassler
and ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman wrote to President Clinton,
"your leadership dispatches the message to perpetrators of hate that
our country's commitment to civil rights and respect for religious freedom
is intractable and attempts to undermine these most basic tenets of our
democracy will not be tolerated."
The League called on House Judiciary Committee Members to support the Church
Arson Prevention Act of 1996 which would amend the Federal Religious Vandalism
Statute to facilitate federal investigations even when church damage is
less than the current $10,000 minimum when attacks are racially motivated.
"Destroying a house of worship is a heinous crime," said Mr. Foxman.
Last January, he contacted Attorney General Janet Reno, urging the Justice
Department "to look into all of these incidents [black church arsons],
which may constitute violations not only of state criminal statutes, but
also federal laws related to vandalism and destruction of religious property."
In February, the Justice Department assured ADL that federal investigations
were in fact underway. Over the ensuing months, the League continued its
involvement in the issue, proposing use of its materials on hate groups
and other resources to law enforcement and federal officials.
ADL also contacted two national African American Baptist church organizations,
sharing a handbook on security and offering materials on extremist groups.
The Anti-Defamation League, founded in 1913, is the world's leading organization fighting anti-Semitism through programs and services that counteract hatred, prejudice and bigotry.