Vandalism or Religious Intolerance?

Exiting a holy monastery in Jerusalem, this priest looks upon the graffiti on the walls. Photo by Oded Balilty AP.

By Sam Bailey-Loomis

Gravestones tipped, churches vandalized, sacred places of worship destroyed: is it just vandalism or something more?

According to an annual study composed by the Pew Research Center’s Forum on Religion & Public Life claimed that “The U.S. saw a rise for the first time, particularly at the state and local level, where incidents restricting religious groups from practicing their faith were up.”

The United States is becoming increasingly diverse, and with the diversity comes individuality, and dramatic change. A worldwide poll, called “The Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism”, found that the number of Americans who say they are “religious” has dropped from 73% to 50%. The number of Americans who claim to be “Atheists” have risen from 1 to 5 percent.

“The obvious implication is that this is a manifestation of the New Atheism movement,” said Ryan Cragun, a University of Tampa sociologist of religion who studies American and global atheism. “For a very long time, religiosity has been a central characteristic of the American identity,” he said. “But what this suggests is that is changing and people are feeling less inclined to identify as religious to comply with what it means to be a good person in the United States.”

Vandalism, although not one of the most severe crimes, is one that becomes serious once taken to the level of sacred property.

Professor James Jones from the Masjid Al-Islam Mosque in New Haven says that their mosque had been vandalized just this summer. They experienced a “broken window in summer of 2012 and paint on inside carpet in summer of 2012.” Disappointed, Jones continues “I feel that they tear at the social cohesions of a community.”

On the topic of God, Atheism, and Agnosticism, Jones goes on to say that Americans are becoming less religious “..because atheism and agnosticism is growing rapidly as it has been normalized by the main stream media.” In the simplest way he could, Jones defines “God” as: “like no other eternal absolute; God is not born, nor does God give birth (Sura/Chapter 112 -Quran).”

It is safe to say that those who practice religion won’t vandalize their places of worship, so the question is: who is responsible for this destruction of sacred property?

In October, several churches in Buffalo, New York were vandalized, according to the Star Tribune, by an unidentified criminal with similar vulgar, homosexual, offensive attacks on Jesus. The churches (Lutheran, Adventist, Presbyterian, and Catholic) were covered in vandalism with messages along the lines of ‘Jesus was gay’. The messages, images, and graffiti were so offensive that no one, including the police would exactly quote what the graffiti was.

In November, the Our Lady of Grace Monastery in Guilford was broken into and destroyed. No official reports on the damage were released by police, or by any other news or official source. However, unofficial reports claim that the windows were shattered, everything internally upturned, and whatever else existed- destroyed.

Depending on the final seriousness of the vandalism, the vandals can receive a hefty fine and 3 to 6 month in prison.

Although neighboring towns and states have had multiple instances of religious vandalism, Branford has experienced little to none. Helen Gohsler from St Therese Church on Leetes Island Rd. said “Thankfully, our place of worship has been respected and not vandalized.” On the topic of religious vandalism, she goes on “I feel sad that this has happened, and I would reach out to forgive and help that individual or those involved.”