Swaminarayan Temple in Kentucky vandalized in “cowardly and unacceptable” act of hate

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By Geeta Goindi

February 3, 2019 – A vile act of vandalism at a Hindu temple in Louisville, Kentucky, has caused anguish and outrage in the Indian-American community.

Sometime between Sunday night and Tuesday morning, the Swaminarayan temple on Bardstown Road in Louisville was desecrated with repugnant messages of hate and black paint sprayed on the image of a deity – such a shocking act of sacrilege! Reportedly, a knife was plunged into a chair in the main hall of the temple, and the vandal covered the walls with black crosses and phrases such as ‘ Jesus Is The Only Lord’ and ‘Jesus Is All Mighty’.

Addressing a news conference Wednesday, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer condemned the xenophobic actions as “cowardly and unacceptable” and vowed, “Anytime we see hatred or bigotry, we will stand against it. The cowards who did this have only given our community more fuel and determination to embrace compassion, understanding, and each other”, he said after surveying the damage at the temple.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer addresses a news conference at the Swaminarayan Temple following an act of vandalism which he called “cowardly and unacceptable”. Photo source: Twitter

Raj Patel, a spokesperson for the Swaminarayan Temple, told journalists, Hinduism and many religions “are the same when it comes down to it. The common foundation is to be good to others”.

Voicing the sentiments of a congregation clearly shaken, he said, “Our main concern is just making sure that we feel safe when we come back to this temple to pray. We shouldn’t have to look behind our shoulders or our backs to feel that there is someone out here to get us”.

There was some measure of relief for the community on edge when it was announced Friday that a juvenile suspect has been captured in connection with the heinous act. At a press conference convened at the headquarters of the Louisville Metro Police Department, Sgt. Russell Montfort disclosed that the suspect has been identified as a 17-year-old white male who, it is believed, acted alone. He has been charged with first-degree criminal mischief and third-degree burglary for now with the possibility of adding a hate crime enhancement if a judge decides to do so, the 6th division detective sergeant told reporters.

Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (Democrat-Illinois), one of five Indian-American lawmakers serving in the 116th Congress, said he was “outraged and heartbroken” by the vandalism at the Swaminarayan Temple which he asserted “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. This act of violent bigotry touches me personally as a Congressman and as a Hindu-American”, he said in a press statement. “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”.

Last year, in November, the FBI reported that hate crimes increased by 17 percent in the first year of Trump’s presidency. More than half of the hate crimes, about 3 out of 5, targeted a person’s race or ethnicity, while some 1 out of 5 targeted their religion. Other federal surveys indicate that the FBI report may undercount the number of hate crimes by the hundreds of thousands.

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Hinting at the increase in hate crimes under the Trump administration, Krishnamoorthi stressed the importance of supporting the Swaminarayan Temple “even as we recognize this prejudice as part of a growing trend of hate-motivated crimes in America whether it’s against a Hindu temple in Louisville, a synagogue in Los Angeles, or a man walking alone in the morning on the streets of Chicago”, he said.

On his part, the Illinois Democrat pledged to “remain committed to confronting and defeating the individuals and forces responsible” for the desecration at the Swaminarayan Temple and revealed that he will introduce an updated version of his bill which establishes a federal commission on hate crimes to investigate the nature of the increase in hate-motivated attacks, its root causes, and how to defeat it.

Democratic lawmaker John Yarmuth who represents Kentucky’s 3rd congressional district that houses the Swaminarayan Temple, tweeted, “The vandalism of Swaminarayan Temple was a cowardly and abhorrent act, a sad reminder of the presence of bigots among us who feel emboldened as of late. I stand with the Hindu community in rejecting this hatred”.

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Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin conveyed Thursday on Twitter that he is “saddened by the reprehensible and inexcusable vandalism” at the Hindu temple in Louisville. In a state and nation that protects and celebrates religious liberty, this is unacceptable, he said.

Mayor Fischer invited the community at large to the temple on Saturday “to help clean up and paint away the hate. Please bring your own supplies and your compassion. As Louisville always does, we’ll work together to proudly send a message to the people who did this, and to everyone in our city and beyond”, he said.

Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear weighed in, tweeting, “The recent act of vandalism at the Shree Swaminarayan Hindu Temple in Louisville is unacceptable. We are all Kentuckians and our constitution protects all of our freedoms to worship. I would encourage everyone to support the clean-up efforts”.

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State representative Nima Kulkarni, the first ever Indian-American elected to the Kentucky General Assembly, said she was honored to stand in solidarity with members of the Swaminarayan Temple, alongside Mayor Fischer, state representative Joni Jenkins, and Police Chief Steve Conrad, at the news conference, to denounce the hateful vandalism that occurred there. “We must take this opportunity to renew faith in our community and rise above these hurtful acts”, she said in social media posts urging local residents to join in the cleanup efforts. “Let’s erase the hate together”, she implored.

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