Written by Don Byrd

By an overwhelming 402-2 margin, the U.S. House yesterday passed the Protecting Religious Institutions Act of 2017.  The bill amends Section 247 of Title 18 in the U.S. Code (a provision created by the Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996) to address the punishment required for damage done to religious property  “by means of fire or explosives,” It calls for “a fine in accordance with this title and imprisonment for not more than 3 years, or both.”

Perhaps more importantly, HR 1730 clarifies the definition of religious property. The current law defines religious property as “any church, synagogue, mosque, religious cemetery, or other religious real property, including fixtures or religious objects contained within a place of religious worship.” The bill just passed by the House adds to that definition property “owned or leased..by a religiously affiliated organization.”

In other words, property damage targeting religious community centers, denominational institutions, hospitals, religious educational institutions, etc. would be subject to the same criminal penalties as destruction targeting houses of worship.

An identical bill, S. 994, was introduced in the U.S. Senate in May by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), co-sponsored by Senator Dianne Feinstein (R-CA).