The Pew Research Center finds that over the past twenty years, more than half of all fires in U.S. houses of worship were intentionally set as acts of arson, far more than the percentage of fires in other buildings.
Between 1996 and 2015 there were 4,705 reported fires in houses of worship in the United States, of which 2,378, or slightly more than 50 percent, were found to be the work of arsonists.
Many of the attacks on churches have been religiously or racially motivated, the Center notes, such as a string of arson attacks at six predominantly black churches in the Saint Louis area this month, although federal law enforcement agencies have ruled these fires to be unrelated and police are as yet unwilling to say whether the attacks are racially driven. Acts of arson are also significantly more common in churches than in other structures, and in recent years only 5 to 10 percent of residential and non-residential fires were intentionally set, as compared to the 51 percent of church fires that were deemed acts of arson.
Church burnings have also been more common in the south, a sad legacy to the years of the civil rights movement when church arson was a relatively common occurrence.