mixing government and religion. why is arson a FEDERAL CRIME when it is done to a church. in this church arson the BATF was called in to investigate it because arson on a church is a federal crime.

i will certainly agree that torching a chruch is wrong but i suspect that making it a federal crime is unconstitional.


Blaze guts Phoenix church Seventh-day Adventist congregation vows to rebuild

Judi Villa and William Hermann The Arizona Republic Feb. 9, 2006 12:00 AM

Pastor Claudio M. Martin stood before his fire-gutted North Valley Spanish Church and surveyed the damage: The steeple had collapsed. The roof had fallen in. Only the red-brick walls remained.

"I don't want to even suspect that someone would do such a thing," Martin said.

But the Tuesday night blaze that destroyed the Seventh-day Adventist church at 15th and Peoria avenues was intentionally set, said division Chief Mike Sandulak of the Phoenix Fire Department.

The fire started in some exterior wooden shutters on the south side of the church, then spread to the attic, Sandulak said.

"It looks like there was an accelerant used," he said.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives also is investigating the blaze because burning a church is a federal crime. ATF spokesman Tom Mangan said Wednesday that there were "a lot of pour patterns found."

Satanic graffiti was found on some walls, but Sandulak said it appeared to have been painted over and was not believed to be related.

Outside the church Wednesday, Armando Metelin, 34, talked animatedly with Martin, 54, of rebuilding.

"We want our church returned to what it was," said Metelin, who is among the church's 150 members.

"But we will make it bigger and better. All of us feel that way."

As the two spoke, Pastor Alex Pino, who heads the nearby Covenant of Grace Church, approached with hands outstretched.

"How can we help?" Pino said, embracing Martin. Pino was among three pastors who came to Martin on Wednesday morning offering the displaced congregation a temporary place to worship.

Kent Sharpe, treasurer of the Seventh-day Adventist Arizona Conference, said the church was insured and would rebuild.

"But we are also soliciting prayers for the congregation as they face the challenges of building a new church," Sharpe said.

Damage to the Seventh-day Adventist church was estimated at $200,000.

Neighbors said the fire seemed to consume the church almost from the moment the fire was spotted.

"I was outside and saw some smoke, then flames, then it was in the top very fast," said neighbor Gustavo Sanchez, 19. "I called the fire department and they were here really quick, but the whole place was going by then."

On Wednesday, investigators were talking to church members and trying to determine what type of accelerant was used.

Police also were stepping up patrols in the area. No suspect immediately emerged.

"Any attack on a house of worship is not only a monetary loss to the congregation but it's also a loss to the community," Mangan said. "It's a personal attack to the congregation and the community as a whole."

The Seventh-day Adventist church was the 18th Phoenix church of many denominations and various demographics that has burned since 2000 because of arsonists.

Six of those fires have occurred since June.

Churches often are considered easy targets because they are unoccupied at night and for long periods of time during the day, they are accessible and many are either constructed of wood or furnished with wooden pews.

Nationwide, an average of 1,300 church fires are reported each year, causing $38 million in property loss, according to a report published by the U.S. Fire Administration in March 2002.

The leading cause of church fires is arson, with motivations as diverse as vandalism, revenge and racial hatred. Church fires also can be set to conceal other crimes, such as burglary.

Officials Wednesday hadn't determined a motive for the fire at the northwest Phoenix church.

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