UPDATE: Feb. 1 ― A juvenile suspect was arrested Thursday in connection with the vandalism of Louisville’s Swaminarayan Temple.
Louisville police told CNN that the suspect, a 17-year-old white male, was charged with criminal mischief and burglary. He’s believed to have acted alone.
A judge will decide whether to add a hate crime enhancement to the charges, the Courier Journal reports.
A Hindu temple in Kentucky was vandalized this week with hateful messages, including some promoting Christianity, in an incident local police are calling a hate crime.
Sometime between Sunday and Tuesday morning, a vandal or vandals broke through a window at Louisville’s Swaminarayan Temple, the Courier Journal reports, leaving glass shattered on the floor. 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.
The vandalism was discovered by a repairman on Tuesday morning. No one was in the temple while the vandalism occurred, Patel told the Courier Journal.
“We come here to worship,” Patel said during a press conference at the temple on Wednesday. “We should not have to turn our backs to see who is behind us.”
Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad described the vandalism as a “hate crime” during a press conference on Wednesday. He said investigators have not yet identified any suspects. Police will be at the temple on Sunday to ensure that worshippers are safe, he said.
“The desecration of this temple is heartbreaking,” he said during the press conference. “I want the people of this temple to know that we will stand with them. We will do our best to keep them safe, and we will do what we need to do to make Louisville a safer city.”
The Hindu American Foundation, a national advocacy organization, urged law enforcement to “bring the perpetrators to justice with all speed.”
“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 this week 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.
Fisher said he is calling on Louisville residents to join him on Saturday to help “paint away the hate” and clean the temple up.
Other Kentucky politicians chimed in on Twitter to offer their support to the temple community.
Patel said that temple members’ top priority at the moment is to be able to worship in peace at the building on Sunday. He said he was heartened by the community’s response so far.
“A lot of our religions are all the same, when it comes down to it,” he said at the press conference. “The common foundation is to be good to others.”