Community lends support after temple vandalized in Kentucky

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Community members gathered at the Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville, Kentucky, to offer prayers and do a clean-up after an incident of vandalism. Photo courtesy of the temple.

The gross vandalism didn’t achieve its objective. The Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville, Kentucky, withstood the hateful desecration, and xenophobic messages. The devotees and the faithful still throng it daily, and importantly, the community in Louisville – Muslims, Christians, and others, gathered with their Hindus neighbors to wash away the sins of a misguided youth, and did aarti, prayer, together inside the temple premises, in a grand show of faith.

A 17-year-old was arrested in connection to a case of vandalism at Swaminarayan Temple, a Louisville Hindu temple on Bardstown Road, reported the ABC affiliate local television station.

Authorities say the teen broke windows and spray-painted “repugnant messages of hate” and black crosses inside the Swaminarayan Temple sometime between January 27 evening and the morning of January 28.

Police Chief Steve Conrad said there were xenophobic and sexist messages and someone spray-painted the eyes of a Hindu religious figure with black paint.

The juvenile was charged with burglary and criminal mischief for the vandalism, and while police cannot charge a suspect with a hate crime, LMPD Sgt. Russell Montfort said the crime was clearly connected to religion.

“There was some religion aspect to it, clearly, and we did list in the report there was some bias with it being of a religious nature,” Montfort said. “We don’t necessarily charge as a hate crime, that is something that the courts, the sentencing judge, will take into consideration.”

HuffPost reported black paint was sprayed onto a poster depicting a religious figure, and the temple’s walls were covered with black crosses and phrases such as “Jesus Is The Only Lord” and “Jesus Is All Mighty.” A knife was reportedly plunged into a chair in the temple.

A message spray-painted onto a bulletin board at the temple read had the word “foreign” followed by an expletive, Fox affiliate WDRB reports.

Temple spokesperson Raj Patel told the news station that this last message indicates that the vandalism was “not about just a god.”

“It’s about a race or someone’s skin color,” he said.

Temple attendee Suhas Kulkarni said he was relieved to hear that someone had been apprehended, but said that lack of information or disinformation about Hindu culture is something the temple hopes to change, ABC News reported.

“We want to go out and help,” Kulkarni said. “If there is misinformation or disinformation, we want to go out and dispel it — not just for our safety, but in general for the good of the community.”

The Hindu American Foundation, a national advocacy organization, condemned the vandalism.

“We at HAF are shocked but sadly not surprised by this ugly incident of vandalism, apparently by Christian supremacists unable to tolerate minority faiths in Louisville,” Jay Kansara, the HAF’s director of government relations, said in a statement.

Seventy-six percent of adults in the state identify as Christian, including 49 percent who say they are evangelical Protestant, according to the Pew Research Center. About 2 percent of Kentucky adults are from non-Christian faiths. Fewer than 1 percent are Hindu.

Conrad said that Louisville’s Sikh and Muslim communities experienced threats in the past. He said there were heightened security concerns at the local Sikh temple in 2012, after the deadly Oak Creek temple shooting in Wisconsin. In 2015 vandals spray-painted derogatory, anti-Muslim messages on the walls of the Louisville Islamic Center.

At the same time, Louisville is also home to Festival of Faiths, an annual interfaith conference that promotes interreligious understanding and attracts speakers and attendees from around the country.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said that the graffiti left on the Swaminarayan Temple’s walls were “repugnant messages of hate.” He added that the vandals had written the words “God” and “Jesus” “in a spirit that all Christians would disavow and distance themselves from immediately.”

“This another example of the work we still have to do as a city and as a country to make sure that we live up to our ideals of equality,” he said.

A call by Fischer to clean the premises of the vandalism saw an overwhelming response.

Congressman John Yarmuth was one of those who showed up for the clean-up.

“So incredible to be with hundreds of friends, neighbors, and worshippers who came out this morning to help clean up and restore Swaminarayan Temple. The power of our community is immeasurable,” he said.

On the temple’s Facebook page, community members expressed their shock and distaste of the vandalism.

Tootsie Gregory wrote: “wow what a turnout. i think the young man who did that should have cleaned it up with a toothbrush and maybe he would think the next time.”

Another community member, Sara Clarke Turpin, who attended the temple services, wrote:  “A packed house to clean up the graffiti and other damage that was done “in the name of Jesus” to the Hindu Temple in our Buechel neighborhood. The Jesus we know does not stand for hate, but for love. He heals, redeems, loves, accepts, includes.”

Steven Harp had this to say on Facebook: “Apparently, a juvenile living in Kentucky went into private property, a Hindu Temple with his spray paint destroying property and spraying messages about his faith like “Jesus is All Mighty.” Also spray painting crosses on walls and over religious items. What do you think the odds of that young vandalist coming from a Trump supporter family? These families push religious freedom so hard but when another religion moves in, this so-called ‘freedom’ appears to be reserved for one religion: their own.”

Shelly Browning put the mood of the town succinctly, when she wrote: “So sad. We drove past there today and I noticed it. Can’t believe people who are “christians” would think this is right thing to do. They may be Christians but very misguided.”

Another person from the town, Vicci Turner, wrote: “I am so sorry for the hate and disrespect shown to your Temple. Please know that many Christians support you and love you as we are all supposed to love each other.”

State Representative Nima Kulkarni, who also joined the devotees and community members, wrote: “Thank you to the hundreds of supporters who cleaned, painted, and stood in solidarity with the Swaminarayan Temple today. Thank you to Chief Conrad, Major Bogan, and the detectives from LMPD’s 6th Division for making our community feel safe. Thank you to Mayor Fischer for his leadership, and Attorney General Andy Beshear, Congressman Yarmuth, and Governor Bevin for their support. Thank you to all the interfaith and community leaders for sharing their wisdom and encouragement today. I am overwhelmed by our community’s response to this incident, and know that this has made us stronger. The young, misguided perpetrator of these actions has our compassion, understanding, and forgiveness. Let this incident make us stronger, wiser, and more resilient.”

Members of The Muslim Americans for Compassion came to the temple and participated in prayers.

“We are so happy and so proud of Louisville’s community of compassion! Hundreds turned out for today’ community clean-up at Swaminarayan Temple Louisville KY USA. Peace wins the day!”, they said in a statement.

The Kentucky chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Kentucky) also condemned the vandalism.

In a statement, CAIR-Kentucky Chair Waheedah Muhammad said: “We condemn this act of religious bigotry and stand in solidarity with the Kentucky Hindu community. Every American must reject the growing attacks on minority communities nationwide and speak out in defense of traditional American values of religious inclusion and diversity.”

The Washington-based Muslim civil rights organization has reported an unprecedented spike in bigotry targeting American Muslims, immigrants and members of other minority groups since the election of Donald Trump as president.

Members of the Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church in Louisville also gathered in strength at the temple, to give support and show solidarity.

“Video shows Governor Bevin and Attorney General Andy Breshear. Brashear brought his wife and two children to experience the event. This Hindu temple considered this an opportunity to bring people together rather than a despicable act of vandalism. They asked our community to not hate the individual who did this. The ministers who spoke reiterated that this perpetrator under the guise of Christianity could not have believed in a loving God,” they said, speaking of the clean-up operations.

Earlier, Indian American Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi had condemned the act of vandalism, saying he is outraged and heartbroken over the hate-motivated attack.

“I am outraged and heartbroken to see the vandalism of Louisville, Kentucky’s Swaminarayan Temple in what was unquestionably an act of hate that strikes at the sense of security and belonging of the Hindu-American community in Louisville and across our nation,” Krishnamoorthi said in a statement Feb. 1.

“This act of violent bigotry touches me personally as a congressman and as a Hindu-American. This is an attack on our identity as a nation that accepts people of all races, colors, creeds and backgrounds committed to building our more perfect, more diverse union. We must show our support for the Swaminarayan Temple, even as we recognize this prejudice as part of growing trend of hate-motivated crimes in America,” he said, adding: “To address the increase in hate crimes we’ve witnessed over these past few years, I’ll be introducing an updated version of legislation I introduced last Congress to establish a federal commission on hate crimes to investigate the nature of this increase in hate-motivated attacks, its root causes, and how we defeat it.”

Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin had also condemned the vandalism of the Hindu temple, terming it as reprehensible and unacceptable.

He tweeted: “Saddened by the reprehensible and inexcusable vandalism that occurred at a Hindu temple in Louisville. … In a state & nation that protect and celebrate religious liberty, this is unacceptable.”

The Swaminarayan Temple management showed its gratitude to the community for their support, by saying: “Maninagar Shree Swaminaryan Gadi Sanstan Louisville, KY is extremely grateful to today’s “Paint the Hate” event. It was ensuring to see all faiths, ages, our elected officials, and the good members of the community to come out and represent what Louisville is all about. The devotees of the temple were filled with joy and reinsured that we belong in this community and that we can reside together as brothers and sisters. Thank you for all the prayers and love. We felt it and it meant a lot. We will be able to come back to our house of worship with peace of mind.”

It added: “We appreciate your prayers and concerns. We are a peace-loving, tolerant, all-embracing community. May God give wisdom to those involved in this hate crime so that they realize this behavior is not acceptable. Let this person turn the leaf of hate and see the good in all people and all faiths.”

The Swaminarayan Temple has been at 4032 Bardstown Road for about five years, said Raj Patel, a spokesman for the temple. Before the temple, the building was home to a church, officials said, the Courier Journal reported.

The temple is affiliated with Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan, a Hindu sect and “worldwide center for spiritual, cultural and social welfare” located in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India.

The sect of Swaminarayan Hinduism gets its name from devotion to Lord Shree Swaminarayan, a Hindu figure believed by followers to be a manifestation of God

Besides the Swaminarayan Temple in Louisville, other temples in North America that are part of the Maninagar Shree Swaminarayan Gadi Sansthan sect are in Illinois, California, Delaware, Florida, Virginia, Kentucky, Georgia, Tennessee, Ohio and Canada.

 

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