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104th Congress                                                   Report
                        HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

 2d Session                                                     104-621
_______________________________________________________________________


 
                  CHURCH ARSON PREVENTION ACT OF 1996
                                _______


 June 17, 1996.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______


 Mr. Hyde, from the Committee on the Judiciary, submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 3525]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on the Judiciary, to whom was referred the 
bill (H.R. 3525) to amend title 18, United States Code, to 
clarify the Federal jurisdiction over offenses relating to 
damage to religious property, having considered the same, 
report favorably thereon with an amendment and recommend that 
the bill as amended do pass.

                                CONTENTS

                                                                   Page
The Amendment....................................................     1
Purpose and Summary..............................................     2
Background and Need for Legislation..............................     2
Hearings.........................................................     4
Committee Consideration..........................................     5
Vote of the Committee............................................     5
Committee Oversight Findings.....................................     5
Committee on Government Reform and Oversight Findings............     5
New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures........................     5
Congressional Budget Office Estimate.............................     6
Inflationary Impact Statement....................................     6
Section-by-Section Analysis and Discussion.......................     6
Agency Views.....................................................     8
Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported............    11

    The amendment is as follows:
    Strike out all after the enacting clause and insert in lieu 
thereof the following:

SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.

    This Act may be cited as the ``Church Arson Prevention Act of 
1996''.

SEC. 2. DAMAGE TO RELIGIOUS PROPERTY.

    Section 247 of title 18, United States Code, is amended--
          (1) so that subsection (b) reads as follows:
    ``(b) The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are that the 
offense is in or affects interstate or foreign commerce.''; and
          (2) in subsection (a)(1), by inserting ``, racial, or 
        ethnic'' before ``character''.

                          Purpose and Summary

    The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996 amends section 247 
of Title 18, United States Code, in three important ways. 
First, it eliminates the $10,000 dollar minimum damage 
requirement in current law. This change will make it easier to 
prosecute incidents of defacement and desecration, where the 
value of physical damage to the religious property is small. 
The Committee found that a minimum dollar amount is not 
necessary to justify Federal involvement in these cases.
    Second, H.R. 3525 provides that if religious real property 
is damaged because of the racial or ethnic character of the 
property, it will be a violation of the statute. Current law 
requires that the damage be caused only because of the 
religious character of the property. Section 247, as amended by 
H.R. 3525, will firmly reach any attack of a church that is 
tied to the racial or ethnic characteristics of the members of 
the church or house of worship.
    Third, H.R. 3525 simplifies the interstate commerce 
requirement of current law. Section 247 now requires that in 
committing the offense, the defendant either travel in 
interstate commerce, or use a facility or instrumentality of 
interstate or foreign commerce in interstate or foreign 
commerce. The Department of Justice testified that this double 
interstate commerce requirement is virtually impossible to 
satisfy, thereby making the section relatively useless. H.R. 
3525 cures this problem by replacing current language with the 
interstate commerce requirement that the ``offense is in or 
affects interstate or foreign commerce.''

                Background and Need for the Legislation

    Since October 1, 1991, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and 
Firearms (BATF)--the primary Federal agency with jurisdiction 
to investigate arson--has investigated 147 fire incidents at 
churches across the United States. Of these fires, 115 have 
proved to be arsons. Fifty-three of those 147 churches were 
made up of predominantly African-American congregations, many 
of them located in the Southeastern United States.
    The number of fires involving African-American churches 
reported to Federal authorities has increased dramatically in 
recent months. In 1992, three African-American church burnings 
in the Southeast were reported and investigated by the BATF. 
Two were reported in 1993, four in 1994, and six in 1995. So 
far in 1996, there have been at least 26 such fires reported. 
In six incidents, the perpetrators were prosecuted and 
convicted--four under Federal statutes, and two in state 
prosecutions. Of the 31 currently pending investigations--where 
arson or suspicious circumstances have been discovered--six are 
in Tennessee, five in Louisiana, five in South Carolina, five 
in Alabama, three in Mississippi, five in North Carolina, one 
in Virginia, and one in Georgia. Arrests have been made in 
connection with six of these incidents, and most of the 
defendants are being prosecuted in state court under arson 
charges. Two of these are in South Carolina, where two 
arsonists who set two separate fires are acknowledged members 
of the Ku Klux Klan.
    The Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the 
United States Department of Justice prosecutes federal criminal 
civil rights statutes which prohibit conspiracies to interfere 
with federally protected rights, deprivation of rights under 
color of law, the use or threat of force to injure of 
intimidate someone in their enjoyment of specific rights (such 
as voting, employment, education, public facilities and 
accommodations), criminal housing interference and statutes 
outlawing peonage and involuntary servitude. According to the 
Department of Justice, there are three principal statutes under 
which the Civil Rights Division could attempt to prosecute the 
person responsible for a church burning that is found to be 
motivated by racism.
    In the event that the arson was committed by more than one 
person, the perpetrators can be charged under section 241 of 
Title 18, United States Code, which makes it unlawful for two 
or more persons to conspire to injure, oppress, threaten, or 
intimidate any inhabitant in the free exercise or enjoyment of 
any rights of privileges secured by the Constitution or Laws of 
the United States. A violation of this section may lead to a 
fine of up to $250,000 and/or a term of imprisonment up to 10 
years. If death results, defendants may be sentenced to prison 
for any term of years or for life, or to death.
    If the perpetrator is acting alone, section 241 is not 
available as a means of prosecution. Instead, a Federal 
prosecutor must charge the defendant under section 247 or 
section 248(a)(2) of Title 18.\1\ Specifically, section 247 
makes it unlawful to intentionally deface, damage or destroy 
any religious real property or to intentionally obstruct, by 
force or threat of force, any person in the enjoyment of the 
free exercise of their religion. However, one of the elements 
of the violation is that, in committing the crime, the 
defendant either have (1) traveled in interstate or foreign 
commerce or (2) used a facility or instrumentality of 
interstate or foreign commerce in interstate commerce. In the 
case of many church burnings, there is no evidence that the 
defendant traveled across state lines, making it necessary to 
invoke the second clause of the jurisdictional requirement.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    \1\ An arsonist could also be charged with a federal crime under 
the general arson statute, which does not require a showing of racial 
motivation. Section 844(i) of Title 18, U.S.C. provides, in pertinent 
part, that ``whoever maliciously damages or destroys, or attempts to 
damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, 
vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or 
foreign commerce or in any activity affecting interstate or foreign 
commerce'' shall be fined or imprisoned or both.
    The authorized penalties under section 844(i) are prison for not 
less than 5 years and not more than 20 years, fines or both. If 
personal injury results, the prison term is increased to not less than 
7 years and not more than 40 years. If death results, the arsonist is 
subject to the death penalty, prison for life, or for any term of 
years. The statute of limitations for prosecution under this section is 
ten years.
    Under Section 248(a)(2) it is illegal to use force or threat of 
force or physical obstruction to injure, intimidate or interfere (or 
attempt to do so) with an individual's lawful exercise of his First 
Amendment right of religious freedom at a place of religious worship. 
Section 248(a)(3) makes it a crime to intentionally damage or destroy 
the property of a place of religious worship.
    However, in the case of a first offense criminal penalties under 
this section are limited to a fine of up to $100,000 and/or 
imprisonment for not more than one year. A misdemeanor conviction is 
considered in most instances of church arson to be such insignificant 
punishment that Federal prosecutors are unwilling to charge the 
perpetrator under this section.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------
    When section 247 was initially passed in 1988, Congress 
intended to expand the circumstances under which there could be 
federal prosecution for religiously motivated violence that 
crossed state lines. The bi-partisan bill was passed without 
dissent in the hope that its enactment would increase public 
awareness of hate crimes and help stem the tide of violence 
against religious organizations.
    This section was targeted at the very crimes at issue 
today: vandalizing and destroying religious property. 
Unfortunately, as written, the legislation has proven to be 
totally ineffective. Since its enactment, only one case has 
been brought under section 247, and it had nothing to do with 
destroying religious property. See, United States v. Barlow, 41 
F.3d 935 (5th Cir. 1994). Yet, as Justice Rehnquist (writing 
for a unanimous Court) recognized in the Supreme Court case of 
Wisconsin v. Mitchell, bias crimes are ``more likely to provoke 
retaliatory crimes, inflict distinct emotional harms on their 
victims and incite community unrest.'' 508 U.S. 467, 488 
(1993). Quoting Blackstone, Justice Rehnquist noted that ``it 
is but reasonable that among crimes of different natures those 
should be most severely punished which are the most destructive 
of the public safety and happiness.'' Id. (quoting 4 W. 
Blackstone, Commentaries 16). The Church Arson Prevention Act 
of 1996 will give new teeth to existing law and make it easier 
to punish those whose racial, ethnic or religious animus lead 
them to destroy religious property.
    The Department of Justice testified that the highly 
restrictive and duplicative language of the interstate commerce 
requirement has made section 247 ``nearly impossible to use.'' 
This means that section 247 is of little assistance to federal 
prosecutors seeking to convict individual church arsonists. The 
Department of Justice also testified that the dollar threshold 
contained in section 247 makes its use impractical in many 
instances. Where the violation at issue involves damage to real 
property, the loss must be greater than $10,000. This means 
that where the damage from a fire is minimal, or when hate is 
expressed, not through fire but through desecration of 
defacement of houses of worship, section 247 cannot be used.
    Section 247 is also limited in usefulness in the context of 
damage to churches with predominantly African-American 
congregations, because the statute only makes it a crime to 
damage religious property because of religious considerations. 
Thus, if an arsonist has burned a church because he or she 
hates Catholics, or Muslims, or Jews, or religion generally, 
the statute would be satisfied. If the motivation for the arson 
is racial animus, however, the conduct would not constitute a 
crime under current section 247.

                                Hearings

    On May 21, 1996, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing on 
the issue of church fires in the Southeastern United States. 
Testimony was received from 12 witnesses, including Congressman 
Donald Payne, on behalf of the Congressional Black Caucus, 
Assistant Attorney General Deval L. Patrick, Civil Rights 
Division, Department of Justice, Director John W. Magaw, Bureau 
of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Chief Tron W. Brekke, Civil 
Rights Program, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Assistant 
Secretary James E. Johnson, Enforcement Division, Department of 
the Treasury, Chief Robert M. Stewart, South Carolina Law 
Enforcement Division, Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, President, Southern 
Leadership Conference, Reverend Earl Jackson, New Cornerstone 
Exodus Church, as National Liaison for Urban Development of the 
Christian Coalition, Reverend Terrance G. Mackey, Sr., Mt. Zion 
African Methodist Episcopal Church, Dr. Richard Land, 
President, Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, Nelson 
Rivers, Southeast Region Director, National Association for the 
Advancement of Colored People, and Reverend Algie Jarrett, Mt. 
Calvary Baptist Church. Additional material was submitted for 
the record by the National Council of Churches of Christ in the 
U.S.A. and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
    Just two days after the hearing, Chairman Hyde and ranking 
Member Conyers introduced the ``Church Arson Prevention Act of 
1996'' (H.R. 3525). As introduced, H.R. 3525 would have (1) 
simplified the interstate commerce requirement in current law 
and (2) reduced the minimum amount of property damage required 
from $10,000 to $5,000.

                        Committee Consideration

    On June 11, 1996 the Committee on the Judiciary met in open 
session and ordered favorably reported the bill H.R. 3525, as 
amended, by a voice vote, a quorum being present.

                         Vote of the Committee

    Mr. Hyde and Mr. Conyers offered an amendment in the nature 
of a substitute to H.R. 3525, which eliminated the dollar 
threshold in the bill as introduced, and which clarified that 
it would be a violation of the statute if the damage to 
religious property was motivated by racial or ethnic 
considerations. The amendment was adopted by voice vote. The 
Committee then, by voice vote, ordered H.R. 3525, as amended, 
reported favorably to the full House.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    In compliance with clause 2(l)(3)(A) of Rule XI of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee reports 
that the findings and recommendations of the Committee, based 
on oversight activities under clause 2(b)(1) of rule X of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, are incorporated in the 
descriptive portions of this report.

         Committee on Government Reform and Oversight Findings

    No findings or recommendations of the Committee on 
Government Reform and Oversight were received as referred to in 
clause 2(l)(3)(D) of rule XI of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives.

               New Budget Authority and Tax Expenditures

    Clause 2(l)(3)(B) of House rule XI is inapplicable because 
this legislation does not provide new budgetary authority or 
increased tax expenditures.

               Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate

    In compliance with clause 2(l)(C)(3) of rule XI of the 
Rules of the House of Representatives, the Committee sets 
forth, with respect to the bill, H.R. 3525, the following 
estimate and comparison prepared by the Director of the 
Congressional Budget Office under section 403 of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                     Washington, DC, June 14, 1996.
Hon. Henry J. Hyde,
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
reviewed H.R. 3525, the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996, as 
ordered reported by the House Committee on the Judiciary on 
June 11, 1996. CBO estimates that enacting the bill could lead 
to increases in both direct spending and receipts, but the 
amounts involved would be less than $500,000 a year. Because 
H.R. 3525 could affect direct spending and receipts, pay-as-
you-go procedures would apply. The bill contains no 
intergovernmental or private-sector mandates as defined in 
Public Law 104-4, and would impose no direct costs on state, 
local, or tribal governments.
    H.R. 3525 would clarify and expand federal jurisdiction 
over offenses relating to destruction of religious property. 
Enacting the bill could lead to more federal prosecutions of 
these crimes. Violators would be subject to criminal fines and 
imprisonment. The imposition of additional fines could cause 
governmental receipts to increase through greater penalty 
collections, but CBO estimates that any such increase would be 
less than $500,000 annually. Criminal fines would be deposited 
in the Crime Victims Fund and would be spent in the following 
year. Thus, direct spending from the fund would match the 
increase in revenues with a one-year lag.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contacts are Mark 
Grabowicz and Stephanie Weiner.
            Sincerely,
                                         June E. O'Neill, Director.

                     Inflationary Impact Statement

    Pursuant to clause 2(l)(4) of rule XI of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee estimates that H.R. 
3525 will have no significant inflationary impact on prices and 
costs in the national economy.

                      Section-by-Section Analysis

                               section 1

    The title of this Act is the ``Church Arson Prevention Act 
of 1996.''

                               section 2

    Section 2 of H.R. 3525 amends section 247 of Title 18, 
United States Code in three ways. First, it replaces subsection 
(b) with a new interstate commerce requirement. H.R. 3525 
broadens the jurisdictional scope of the statute by applying 
criminal penalties if the offense ``is in or affects interstate 
or foreign commerce.'' This formulation grants Federal 
jurisdiction, and thus extends the Attorney General's ability 
to prosecute cases, as to any conduct which falls within the 
interstate commerce clause of the Constitution.
    Under this new formulation of the interstate commerce 
requirement, the Committee intends that where in committing, 
planning, or preparing to commit the offense, the defendant 
either travels in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses the 
mail or any facility or instrumentality of interstate or 
foreign commerce, the statute will be satisfied. These are but 
two examples of the many factual circumstances which would come 
within the scope of H.R. 3525's interstate commerce 
requirement.
    The Committee is aware of the Supreme Court's ruling in 
United States v. Lopez, 115 S. Ct. 1624 (1995), in which it 
struck down as unconstitutional legislation which would have 
regulated the possession of firearms in a school zone. In that 
case, the Court found that the conduct to be regulated did not 
have a substantial effect on interstate commerce, and was 
therefore not within the Federal government's reach under the 
interstate commerce clause of the Constitution. H.R 3525, by 
contrast, specifically limits its reach to conduct which can be 
shown to be in or to affect interstate commerce. Thus, if in 
prosecuting a particular case, the government is unable to 
establish this interstate commerce connection to the act, 
section 247 will not apply to the offense.
    In addition, Congress has authority to enact section 247 
under the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Section 1 
of the Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery or involuntary 
servitude. Section 2 of the Amendment states that ``Congress 
shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate 
legislation.'' In interpreting the Amendment, the Supreme Court 
has held that Congress may reach private conduct, because it 
has the ``power to pass all laws necessary and proper for 
abolishing all badges and incidents of slavery in the United 
States.'' Jones v. Mayer, 392 U.S. 409, 439, (1968). The 
racially motivated destruction of a house of worship is a 
``badge or incident of slavery'' which Congress has acted to 
punish through section 247.
    In replacing subsection (b) of section 247 with new 
interstate commerce language, H.R. 3525 also eliminates the 
current requirement of subsection (b)(2) that, in the case of 
an offense under subsection (a)(1), the loss resulting from the 
defacement, damage, or destruction be more than $10,000. This 
will allow for Federal prosecution of cases involving poor, 
rural congregations where the church building itself is not a 
great monetary value. It will also permit Federal prosecution 
of cases where the conduct does not result in destruction of 
the building, but is limited to defacement or desecration. 
Incidents such as spray painting swastikas on synagogues, or 
firing gunshots through church windows are clearly hate crimes 
and are intended to intimidate a community and interfere with 
the freedom of religious expression. For this reason, the fact 
that the economic damage they cause is de minimus should not 
prevent their prosecution as assaults on religious freedom 
under this section.
    H.R. 3525 also amends section 247 by inserting in 
subsection (a)(1) the words ``racial or ethnic'' before 
``character.'' This change will extend coverage of the statute 
to conduct which is motivated by ethnic or racial animus. Thus, 
in the event that the religious property of a church is damaged 
by someone because of his or her dislike or hatred of its 
African-American congregation, section 247 as amended by H.R. 
3525 would be available to prosecute the perpetrator.
    H.R. 3525 does not change the penalty structure under 
section 247. Where death results, or in the case of other 
serious violent felonies (kidnapping, sexual abuse, attempted 
murder) a fine of up to $250,000 and/or any term of years or 
for life, or a death sentence may be imposed. Where there is 
bodily injury or use, attempted use or threatened use of a 
dangerous weapon including fire, a fine of up to $250,000 may 
be imposed and/or imprisonment for not more than ten years. In 
any other case, a fine of up to $100,000 may be imposed and/or 
the defendant may be imprisoned for up to one year.
    In expanding the reach of section 247 to specifically 
include all church arsons motivated by religious, ethnic, or 
racial considerations, the Committee does not intend to alter 
or in any way limit the applicability of section 844(i) of 
Title 18 to the same conduct. The Department of the Treasury's 
Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is charged with primary 
investigative responsibility over federal arson and bombing 
offenses set forth in section 844(i). That section provides, in 
pertinent part, that ``whoever maliciously damages or destroys, 
or attempts to damage or destroy, by means of fire or an 
explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal 
property used in interstate or foreign commerce or in any 
activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce'' shall be 
fined or imprisoned or both.
    An incident of church arson might be prosecuted both under 
section 844(i) and section 247, as amended by H.R. 3525. It is 
the Committee's intent that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and 
Firearms shall have concurrent jurisdiction with the Federal 
Bureau of Investigation to investigate conduct which might 
violate section 247, and which involves fire or explosives.

                              Agency Views

                        U.S. Department of Justice,
                             Office of Legislative Affairs,
                                      Washington, DC, June 7, 1996.
Hon. Henry J. Hyde,
Chairman, Committee on the Judiciary,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: This presents the views of the 
Department of Justice on H.R. 3525, the ``Church Arson 
Prevention Act of 1996.'' The proposed amendments to 18 U.S.C. 
247 are an important measure to make that statute a practical 
and useful tool to prosecute violence directed at houses of 
worship. The Department salutes your leadership and that of Mr. 
Conyers on the bill. We strongly support it, and in this letter 
outline a number of suggestions which we would urge the 
Committee to consider in order to strengthen the bill.
    Section 247 was enacted in 1988, and its penalties enhanced 
in 1994, to address the serious problem of religiously 
motivated violence. As the Committee noted in 1988, the 
catalyst for this legislation was that ``[r]eligiously 
motivated violence * * * appears to be a growing problem.'' H. 
Rep. No. 100-337, 100th Cong., 1st Sess. 2 (1987). Acts of 
violent obstruction of the free exercise of religion continue 
to present a significant problem nationwide. As you noted at 
the Committee hearing on May 21, there has been a disturbing 
increase in the number of suspicious fires at churches. We also 
continue to be confronted with acts of violence, targeting 
places of worship and cemeteries, such as drive-by-shootings, 
desecrations and vandalism. In many instances, these acts of 
violence appear to be motivated not only by hatred of members 
of the houses of worship because of their exercise of their 
religion, but also because of their race or ethnicity.
    Section 247 could be improved to become a more effective 
weapon for the Department of Justice to use against such 
violent bigotry. In fact, since its enactment, the statute has 
been used only once, successfully in a case involving the 
murders of former members of a religious cult at the hands of 
other cult members angered at the victims' leaving the church. 
U.S. v. Barlow, 41 F. 3d 935 (5th Cir. 1994).
    In an effort to address the problem of violence against 
houses of worship, the Department has used other statutes to 
provide federal jurisdiction, primarily 18 U.S.C. 241. While we 
have had success using Section 241 in some cases of attacks on 
African-American churches, Section 241 requires proof of a 
conspiracy and therefore cannot be used to prosecute persons 
acting alone. In addition, church burning cases filed under 
Section 241 require proof that the conspiracy was motivated by 
racial animus.
    In 1994, Congress enacted 18 U.S.C. 248, which prohibits 
interference with the exercise of religion and the desecration 
of places of worship. Section 248, however, provides inadequate 
punishment in the absence of injury. As a result, it is 
important that Section 247 be improved to become a valuable 
weapon in the arsenal against violence aimed at houses of 
worship.
    Section 247(a) prohibits the defacing of religious property 
as well as the violent interference with persons in the free 
exercise of their religious beliefs. Despite this broad 
prohibitive language, however, other aspects of the statute 
limit its effectiveness.
    First, Section 247(b) imposes an interstate commerce 
requirement that goes well beyond constitutional necessity. A 
defendant must either travel in interstate commerce, or a 
defendant must ``use[] a facility or instrumentality of 
interstate * * * commerce'' and he must do so ``in interstate * 
* * commerce.'' Thus, for example, it is not enough for a 
defendant to use a telephone to help him commit the cime--the 
call itself must go out of state. If a defendant uses public 
transportation to facilitate the crime, it is not enough for 
that bus or train to have traveled interstate; the defendant 
must have used it in interstate commerce. See S. Rep. No. 100-
324, 100th Cong., 2nd Sess., at 5.
    This highly restrictive interstate commerce prerequisite 
greatly limits the applicability of the statute. Indeed, the 
experience of the Department of Justice is that in the majority 
of these cases, the government is unable to establish that 
defendants traveled in interstate commerce or used facilities 
in interstate commerce. As a result, Section 247, as written, 
is simply not applicable to the very kind of misconduct it was 
originally intended to address.
    Second, Section 247(b) imposes a $10,000 damage minimum in 
cases brought under the vandalism portion of the statute. But 
many of these cases involve acts of defacement and intimidation 
that simply do not result in significant monetary loss. For 
example, a gunshot fired into a church may only result in a 
broken window causing little physical damage to the building 
(well under the $10,000 threshold), but the emotional and 
psychological damage to church members is incalculable. 
Similarly, a spray painted message of hate on a house of 
worship is an assault on the very core of a fundamental 
principal of freedom. Yet it does not result in significant 
monetary damage and therefore is not actionable under Section 
247. A fire that does not spread may well cause less than 
$10,000 in damage.
    H.R. 3525 would go a long way toward addressing these 
concerns. The redrafting of the commerce clause paragraph in 
subsection (b)(1) to make clear that an offense that ``affects 
interstate * * * commerce'' is covered by the statute, would 
broaden the reach of the statute. Under this amendment it would 
no longer be necessary to establish as a jurisdictional 
prerequisite that the defendant himself moved in interstate 
commerce or used a facility in interstate commerce. Instead it 
would be enough to show that his conduct had an impact on 
interstate commerce--a standard more in line with existing 
criminal statutes outlawing, for example, the possession of 
certain weapons, e.g. 18 U.S.C. 922(g), 924, or the use of fire 
or explosive devices, e.g. 18 U.S.C. 844(i). This amendment 
would allow the Department to proceed against defendants who 
target religious structures.
    However, because we believe that there may be 
constitutional authority for Congress to adopt a more expansive 
jurisdictional approach, we would like to work with the 
Committee to explore this possibility.
    The reduction of the $10,000 in damages requirement is also 
an important step in the right direction. We would also like to 
explore whether it is appropriate to reduce further or 
eliminate entirely the damages requirement. The demonstrable 
and unmistakable threats conveyed by spray painted swastikas on 
synagogues or gunshots fired through church windows inflict 
serious assaults on religious freedom and deserve federal 
protection under this statute. The fortunate fact that the 
destruction is less severe does not make the threat less 
damaging.
    Finally, the Committee may also want to consider adding the 
words ``racial or ethnic'' to subsection (a)(1) of Section 247 
after the word ``religious,'' so the full provision would read 
``intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any religious 
real property, because of the religious, racial or ethnic 
character of the property.'' This would firmly reach any attack 
of a church that is tied to the racial or ethnic 
characteristics of the members of the church or house of 
worship.
    We appreciate the opportunity to express the views of the 
Administration on this bill, and look forward to working with 
the Committee towards its enactment.
            Sincerely,
                                               Andrew Fois,
                                        Assistant Attorney General.

         Changes in Existing Law Made by the Bill, as Reported

    In compliance with clause 3 of rule XIII of the Rules of 
the House of Representatives, changes in existing law made by 
the bill, as reported, are shown as follows (existing law 
proposed to be omitted is enclosed in black brackets, new 
matter is printed in italic, existing law in which no change is 
proposed is shown in roman):

              SECTION 247 OF TITLE 18, UNITED STATES CODE

Sec. 247. Damage to religious property; obstruction of persons in the 
                    free exercise of religious beliefs

    (a) Whoever, in any of the circumstances referred to in 
subsection (b) of this section--
          (1) intentionally defaces, damages, or destroys any 
        religious real property, because of the religious, 
        racial, or ethnic character of that property, or 
        attempts to do so; or
          (2) intentionally obstructs, by force or threat of 
        force, any person in the enjoyment of that person's 
        free exercise of religious beliefs, or attempts to do 
        so;
shall be punished as provided in subsection (c) of this 
section.
    [(b) The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are 
that--
          [(1) in committing the offense, the defendant travels 
        in interstate or foreign commerce, or uses a facility 
        or instrumentality of interstate or foreign commerce in 
        interstate or foreign commerce; and
          [(2) in the case of an offense under subsection 
        (a)(1), the loss resulting from the defacement, damage, 
        or destruction is more than $10,000.]
    (b) The circumstances referred to in subsection (a) are 
that the offense is in or affects interstate or foreign 
commerce.
          * * * * * * *