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Posted 20 Jun 2001   For week ended June 15, 2001
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Sent on Mormon-News: 12Jun01

By Kent Larsen

Church Vandalism in Utah Increasing, Says Salt Lake Tribune

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH -- The vandalism of an LDS chapel in Sandy, Utah, which caused an estimated $100,000 in damage, led Tribune reporter Bob Mims to look at the vandalism of churches in Utah. Mims found a perception that vandalism is increasing there. He also found that the vandalism isn't limited to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and a review of Mormon News' files show that the vandalism of LDS chapels also isn't limited to Utah.

The Tribune article lists several recent incidents, including the Willow Canyon 2nd and 5th Wards in Sandy which led to the article. It also mentions a string of eight LDS chapels in Holladay and Murray that were vandalized in April, and a West Valley City LDS chapel set on fire by two boys who were arrested recently. Mormon News also reported recently that the Logan 4th ward was vandalized earlier this month.

Outside Utah vandalism against LDS chapels has also made the news. Mormon News reported on vandalism in Tacoma, Washington this past January, several chapels in Beaverton and Tigurd, Oregon that were vandalized in the middle of last year, four chapels around Riverside, California that were attacked in March and April of 1999, and the vandalism of four chapels and arson of one chapel in Roswell, New Mexico.

In spite of the fact that a church has been violated in these attacks, police say that these crimes are often not hate crimes. The Sandy, Utah police have refused to call the vandalism there a hate crime, noting that the crime is still unsolved and didn't include any evidence that clearly made it a hate crime. They says that they won't call it a hate crime unless they talk to the perpetrator and learn of bias against the Church. The vandalism of the Beaverton chapels was part of a string of 17 chapels from several denominations that were all vandalized.

On the other hand, some vandalism is clearly an attack on a particular church. In the Riverside, California case, police reported that the perpetrators told them, "Well, we don't believe in their religion. I'm Christian and they are not the same," although the perpetrators later denied saying any such thing. A judge in the case chose to believe police and gave the young men the unusual sentence of writing a 2,000-word essay on the Book of Mormon in addition to making restitution.

In the New Mexico incidents, Walter Gene Grassie attacked LDS chapels after he was rejected by his lover, an LDS woman who had decided to repent and return to her husband. Grassie then vandalized four LDS chapels, burning one to the ground. Grassie was convicted of arson in July 1999, and is serving a 15-year sentence for the crime.

The vandalism leaves local leaders and ministers confused as to why chapels would be hit. "It is very hard to tell what is behind this. It could [range from] bored people thinking it is a lark to go in and destroy property, to a grudge," said Monsignor Robert Servatius, pastor of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, which was attacked just two weeks before the Sandy LDS chapel. "Certainly, it is indicative of a rather widespread disregard for the rights of others."

University of Uah Professor David Derezotes suggests that the attacks come because youth are increasingly alienated from religion, "Some of the hostility directed toward churches comes from adolescents and young adults who have not felt included or connected with the churches attended by their families and neighbors," he said. "In a study I did several years ago, a high percentage of young people did express a feeling of alienation from churches in Salt Lake City."


Church Property Crimes on The Rise
Salt Lake Tribune 9Jun01 D1
By Bob Mims: Salt Lake Tribune
LDS meeting house vandalism latest in string of incidents


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