New York, NY, July 1, 2015 … The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) today expressed concern to Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch about the spate of fires at African-American churches and commended the Department of Justice for continuing to work closely with state and local authorities investigating these incidents which have occurred only days after the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
ADL urged the Department of Justice to thoroughly investigate any racial motive for these incidents. Since June 21, eight fires have occurred at churches, primarily in southern states.
Although none of the fires has yet been tied to a racial motive and some have been ruled accidental, the Jewish community – which has history of its institutions being victimized by bias-motivated attacks – is particularly sensitive to the fear and vulnerability these latest fires are causing within the African American community.
The following is the text of a letter to Attorney General Lynch from Christopher Wolf, ADL Civil Rights Chair, and Deborah Lauter, ADL Director of Civil Rights, wrote:
We are writing to express deep concerns about the recent series of suspicious fires at predominantly African-American churches in the aftermath of the tragic mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina. We very much appreciate the Justice Department’s continuing work with state and local law enforcement officials to investigate these suspicious fires. Should investigation reveal bias motivation, we urge the Department to vigorously prosecute the perpetrators, under the federal Church Arson Prevention Act or any other relevant statutes.
Like the spate of church arsons in the mid-1990s that resulted in the establishment of the National Church Arson Task Force in June, 1996, the recent series of suspicious fires resonate so meaningfully because there is a historical context for these attacks. They remind us of Night Riders, cross burnings, and Ku Klux Klan terror that was centered on Black churches.
The Jewish community, too, has a tragic, historical frame of reference when we speak of the destruction of houses of worship. In many lands, at many times in our history, Jews have been persecuted, forcibly converted, and killed for our religious beliefs. Our synagogues have, too frequently, been the focus of attacks by anti-Semites.
We are confident you share our view that an attack on a house of worship is much more than destruction of wood, brick, and mortar. Churches, synagogues, and mosques are places of refuge, sanctified spaces that serve as safe havens from the troubles of the outside world. Vandalism or arson at a house of worship desecrates a place that is designed to provide a link between people and their most spiritual aspirations. Because these structures are created to provide a bridge between a religious community and its concept of God, the impact of damage and destruction of the building is very hurtful and very personal.
We wanted you to know that ADL has been reaching out to make our expertise and resources on security for community institutions available to affected communities.
Because of its commitment to and expertise in Jewish institutional security, ADL has created resources for all faith communities on issues of safety and security, while helping institutions to maintain open and welcoming environments.