WASHINGTON, D.C. : President Signs Church Arson Law

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

President Clinton signed into law a bill expanding federal jurisdiction over church burnings and strengthening federal penalties for such attacks. "I applaud the Congress' swift, unanimous and bipartisan passage of this bill," the president said in a statement. "I have signed it promptly upon its transmittal to me so that the new law can go into effect as soon as possible." The new law--passed by Congress last week and sent to the White House on Tuesday--represents a bipartisan response to the wave of church fires that have hit many Southern states over the last 18 months. Among other things, the Church Arson Prevention Act broadens the authority of the federal government to prosecute as a federal crime the intentional defacing, damaging or destroying of religious property "on the basis of race, color or ethnicity." It also doubles to 20 years the maximum prison sentence for damage to religious property that causes injury to people and increases the statute of limitations for prosecution from five to seven years.

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