New bill could make church burglary a hate crime

BIRMINGHAM (WBRC) - A state lawmaker is looking to pass a bill that would make burglaries or other criminal mischief on religious property a hate crime in Alabama.

Lineville Senator Gerald Dial wants to make criminal acts against a church classified at hate crimes, and therefore, felonies.

"We hope this is a deterrent for people to rob," Dial said. "They take copper and sound equipment. We just hope this will protect people in the rural area from doing that."

Other lawmakers agree with Dial's approach. District Attorney Michael Jackson saw five church fires in Bibb County in 1996, and he welcomes the crackdown.

"In my county, we have had five churches burned and that really devastated the community. It's been very painful," Jackson said.

Jackson takes the arson cases very seriously, and is opposing efforts by former Birmingham Southern student Russell Debusk trying to cut his prison term short. Debusk is trying to not serve two years of his state prison sentence after serving his federal prison sentence for burning churches.

"We wanted to make sure on the state side they did time," Jackson said. "No matter if they got it early out on early on the federal time or not."

St. Paul United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham has been a repeated victim of copper thieves.

"We've had a copper stolen from our air conditioners on a couple of occasions. In less than two years, we've had break-ins trying to get at the copper," Pastor Marcus Singleton said.

Singleton supports Dial's bill, which he thinks will deter those trying to steal from the church.

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