The arrest of three college students in the string of Alabama church fires has brought some peace of mind to nervous pastors and churchgoers. The young men arrested Wednesday were all students in Birmingham and court papers filed with their charges indicate it was done as a practical joke that went too far.

Putting Vaseline on twist-off beer bottles is a college practical joke. Same for toilet papering someone's front yard. Torching houses of worship is arson and the young men will appear on such charges in federal court today.

Although the governor says there was no conspiracy against any organized religion one has to question why only Baptist churches were targeted. The arsonists torched four predominantly white congregations and five were black. All of the suspects are white.

The court papers accompanying the charges allege the suspects set the first fires Feb. 3 at five Baptist churches in Bibb County in western Alabama. Federal agents made the case a top priority. They worked with state and local officers, eventually tracing tracks found at some of the churches to one suspect's parents.

Five of the churches were destroyed. Four others were damaged. Most of the fires were set in or near the altars. There were no injuries but the ongoing threat sent fear through many rural areas where the churches were often the center of community activity.

Investigators, quoted by the Associated Press, indicated the Feb. 7 fires set in western Alabama were done to try and throw the lawmen off the trail. It apparently didn't work.

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