Mr. Chairman, I want to thank you for calling this hearing today to discuss the progress of the Federal government's response to the wave of church arsons that plagued us last year. While I am not a member of this subcommittee, I wanted to participate because I think this is an important issue and I want to commend the united efforts of so many groups that have combined their resources to help combat the assault on our nation's houses of worship.
Our attention became focused on this issue last year with reports of widespread, deliberate destruction of churches and houses of worship, disproportionately affecting African-American congregations. Congress responded with a timely and comprehensive approach to this abhorrent problem; the "Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996" was signed into law, followed by the creation of the National Church Arson Task Force.
The enactment of the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 and the creation of the Church Arson Task Force are clear signs that the Federal government will not tolerate destruction aimed at places of worship. A first year report from the National Church Arson Task Force indicates that the Church Arson Prevention Act has increased the rate of prosecution of arsonists, assisted in the rebuilding of churches and prevented more arsons.
The National Church Arson Task Force (comprised of representatives from the Civil Rights Division and Community Relations Service of the Justice Department, the FBI, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) has been remarkably successful in their law enforcement coordination efforts and in the training of agents to be particularly effective in investigating these sensitive and difficult crimes.
I want to commend the members of the Task Force for taking aggressive steps to ensure that the necessary investigative and prosecutorial resources of the Federal government are available to help fight this national disgrace.
In addition to enforcement efforts, the law provides communities with the necessary tools to rebuild their burned-out churches. Under the leadership of Secretary Cuomo at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Council of Churches, and the National Congress of Black Churches, the National Rebuilding Initiative is providing financial and technical assistance to churches that otherwise would not be able to rebuild. The Church Arson Prevention Act provided $10 million dollars in Federal loan guarantees to assist churches with the greatest need and the least ability to pay. In addition, the National Congress of Churches and the National Congress of Black Churches have raised millions of private dollars to support the rebuilding efforts through direct grants and in-kind contributions. I also want to acknowledge the many hours of volunteer labor that have been crucial to the rebuilding initiative.
The partnership of these groups, and the willingness of numerous
individuals, agencies, nonprofits, and financial institutions to provide specialized
assistance, is evidence of the shared commitment in this country to put an end to
this particularly despicable form of domestic terrorism. I look forward to hearing
from the witnesses today.
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