Press

NGLTF Applauds Congressional Passage Of Church Arson Prevention Act

Date: 
June 27, 1996

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) applauded final Congressional passage today of the "Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996." The measure will broaden the ability of the federal government to seek criminal penalties in cases involving vandalism or destruction of religious institutions. The bill also permanently reauthorizes the Hate Crime Statistics Act (HCSA). Though it only authorizes appropriations for HCSA through the year 2002, its permanent mandate of HCSA is a victory for the gay/lesbian/bisexual community and all groups included in the measure.

The "Church Arson Prevention Act" is in response to increased crimes against religious institutions, especially black churches in the Southeast, in the past 18 months. According to federal officials, there have been over 243 attacks against religious institutions - black churches and white churches, synagogues and mosques - since May 1990. Over half of these attacks have occurred since January 1995. Most disturbing, 78% of all suspicious church fires in the Southeast occurred at black churches.

The legislation, passed yesterday by the Senate and today by the House, breathes new life into the Hate Crime Statistics Act by permanently mandating the landmark law and authorizing appropriations for it through the year 2002. HCSA, which expired at the end of 1995, was passed in 1990 and signed into law by President George Bush. HCSA is the first ever federal law to explicitly include gays, lesbians and bisexuals. It requires the Department of Justice to collect and publish annual statistics on crimes that manifest prejudice based on race, religion, sexual orientation and ethnic origin. Numerous civil rights and religious groups, including NGLTF, have advocated for the law's permanent authorization.

Melinda Paras, NGLTF executive director, praised the Church Arson Prevention Act, both as it relates to the attacks on churches, particularly the recent slate of burnings of Black churches, and the reauthorization of the Hate Crime Statistics Act. Paras also denounced those responsible for the climate of "intolerance and hostility" that fosters attacks on black churches and other forms of hate violence.

The following statement can be attributed to Ms. Paras:

The attacks on Black churches of the past 18 months are clearly acts of cowardice, whether they are based on racial or religious prejudice. While the crimes themselves must be denounced, it is also important to denounce those whose rhetoric perpetuates the climate of intolerance and hostility in which these crimes occur. In the past few years, Right-wing political extremists have increased their rhetoric of divisiveness and intolerance. Their campaigns against affirmative action, against immigrants, against gays and lesbians, and against single mothers create a climate that says it is okay to be intolerant of those who are different. While they clearly are not encouraging destruction of churches and other religious institutions, they do blame various groups - based on race, religion, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation - for all the problems in our society. Not surprisingly, such scapegoating leads to an increase in intolerance - and violence.

This rhetoric only perpetuates the hostile environment which allows a few cowardly individuals to believe it is okay to attack individuals or institutions that reflect views or beliefs different from their own.

The legislation adopted by the Senate yesterday and the House today also includes authorized appropriations for the Hate Crime Statistics Act, although only through 20002. Most importantly, however, it provides a permanent mandate for HCSA. This sends a clear message that Congress understands the importance of the Act and the role it plays in helping to document crimes of hate violence, which occur all too frequently. We especially want to acknowledge the leadership of Senators Orrin Hatch and Paul Simon in moving forward reauthorization of the HCSA.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is the oldest national gay and lesbian group and is a progressive organization that has supported grassroots organizing and pioneered in national advocacy since 1973. Since its inception, NGLTF has been at the forefront of virtually every major initiative for lesbian and gay rights. In all its efforts, NGLTF helps to strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at the state level while connecting these activities to a national vision for change.

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The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.