New York Crimes Involving Houses of Worship and Religion: Felonies Against Churches, Mosques, Temples and Synagogues

Tension between religious groups and ignorance about others’ religious beliefs can manifest its head in very ugly and illegal ways. Sometimes it is violence against individuals who share a different religion while other times the target of these attacks are the physical houses of worship – synagogues, churches, mosques, temples and other places for prayer. Regardless, New York State gives the police and District Attorneys the tools to protect people rightfully practicing their religion and their respective places for prayer. Whether punishable as misdemeanors or felonies, the following blog entry briefly identifies and discusses some of the chargeable offenses that one could face upon arrest for damaging or defacing a house of worship or obstructing those who seek to exercise their freedom of religion.

While by no means a list of all crimes, one of the more common offenses that the police can charge in New York is a degree of Criminal Mischief. Simply, if a person intentionally damages the property of another, he or she has committed the misdemeanor of Fourth Degree Criminal Mischief pursuant to New York Penal Law 145.00. Assuming the damage is more than $250 or more than $5,000, then prosecutors could charge felony Criminal Mischief in the form of Third Degree Criminal Mischief, New York Penal Law 145.05, and Second Degree Criminal Mischief, New York Penal Law 145.10, respectively. The former is a class “E” felony while the latter is a class “D” felony. Should the accused use an explosive, regardless of the damage, then the crime is heightened to a class “B” felony and has a mandatory minimum term of incarceration.

Another set of crimes is Criminal Interference with Health Care Services or Religious Worship. If a person threatens the use of force or actually does so (or even uses some form of physical obstruction) to intentionally injure, intimated or interfere with someone exercising their religious rights while at their mosque, church, temple, etc., or you intentionally damage the property of a place of place of worship, they have violated Second Criminal Interference with Health Care Services or Religious Worship, New York Penal Law 240.70. This is a class “A” misdemeanor crime.

Keep in mind that should the evidence and facts establish other offenses such as those involving the intentional infliction of physical or serious physical injuries, nothing precludes law enforcement form charging the varying degrees of misdemeanor and felony Assault found in New York Penal Law Article 120. Further, there is also the potential for felony crimes involving Burglary pursuant to New York Penal Law Article 140.

While exposure can be great and the litany of crimes quite large, anyone accused of or contemplating such a crime against people practicing their religion at a place of worship or the physical church, mosque, synagogue or temple itself, recognize that regardless of the particular statute, prosecutors will likely strictly and harshly enforce the law. For that matter, even if you are unsuccessful in your efforts, the District Attorney can still charge an attempted crime or, in the case of Criminal Interference with Health Care Services or Religious Worship, an attempt is written into the criminal code itself.

To better understand these crimes and the other offenses that one may face if they deface or damage a place of worship or attack, hinder or interfere with a parishioner, review the links contained here or go to the websites listed below.

Crotty Saland PC is a New York criminal defense law practiced representing those accused of crimes throughout the New York City metropolitan area and the Hudson Valley. Founded by two former Manhattan prosecutors, the New York criminal defense attorneys at Crotty Saland PC represent clients from initial investigation and arrest through hearings and trial.