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Should the penalty for vandalism be more severe if it is done to a church?

Asked at the Douglas County Fair on July 31, 2007

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Photo of Robyn Kelso

“I think it depends on the nature of the vandalism. If you draw a swastika on a temple, I think that’s a lot different than drawing it anywhere else.”

Photo of Michael Krumm

“I think it should be the same because the law should value every building the same.”

Photo of Sarah Miller

“I believe the penalty should be the same. Vandalism should have the same repercussion no matter where it is done.”

Photo of Brandon Reed

“I don’t think their sentence should be any longer, but the amount of money should be greater. The church has to fix the damages, and if there is any left they can use it for a good cause.”

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jonas 10 years, 4 months ago

Blue: Could you apologize at the service using creative graffiti?

Flap Doodle 10 years, 4 months ago

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..."

nut_case 10 years, 4 months ago

I agree with jonas. Destruction of property is destruction of property...regardless of what or who it belongs to.

If anything, the argument might be made that the civil penalty might be made less severe, then leave the punishment up to the deity of the church which was vandalized.

Linda Endicott 10 years, 4 months ago

Of course not. Vandalism is vandalism, no matter what is vandalized.

Sheesh...what a silly question...

jonas 10 years, 4 months ago

Wow, what a ridiculously easy question to answer.

Of course not! Nor if it's a mosque, synagogue, temple, baseball field, school, college dormitory, lecture hall, city hall, my house, your house, their house, house of god, house of pancakes, military building, drop-in kitchen, factory, office or any other edifice.

I'd like to see someone make a rational argument as to why their should be different punishments for the same offense, particularly in regards to a church, as that's the question that's being asked.

Anyone? Anyone?

Sigmund 10 years, 4 months ago

William Jefferson Clinton signed "The Church Arson Prevention Act of 1996."The act amended an existing law prohibiting violence against churches by lowering the ten thousand dollar minimum damage requirement. Thus, more attacks could be prosecuted under federal jurisdiction.

The FBI lists church vandalism as a "hate crime" and believes that Title 18, U.S.C., Section 247, prohibits "intentional defacement, damage, or destruction of any religious real property, because of the religious, racial, or ethnic characteristics of that property." Punishment for such offense starts at one year Federal prison time (Leavenworth not Douglas County jail), a fine, or both.

Those pastors, partitioner's, or local LEO's who wish can contact the local FBI field office using the link below.

jonas 10 years, 4 months ago

nut-case: Haha! That's good.

And I shall strike down upon thee with great vengeance, those who attempt to DEFACE, and DESTROY my buildings. And you shall know my name is the Lord, when I lay my vengeance upon thee! (And thy unholy spray-can of filth!)

Dani Davey 10 years, 4 months ago

Just for, you know, the sake of argument, vandalizing a church is a lot more likely to be construed as a hate crime than vandalizing a bakery, and since our current law recognizes increased penalties for hate crimes, I can see why vandalizing a church might carry stiffer penalties. (Not saying I agree with that...)

Dale Stringer 10 years, 4 months ago

Vandalism is vandalism. Now if that vandalism is a swastika on a synagogue or a burning cross outside a predominately black-american church, then added hate-crime charges as well.

Flap Doodle 10 years, 4 months ago

If you think vandals are bad, wait unitl the Visigoths & Ostrogoths show up!

SloMo 10 years, 4 months ago

Doesn't a crime have to be perpetrated against a person to be considered a hate crime?

I'm not trying to pick a fight, Dani, I really am unclear. Of course, there is "hate speech," such as burning a cross, but is that necessarily a hate "crime," (e.g., if it is done on one's own front lawn as a political statement and not on that of some unconsenting neighbor as a threat)?

Where does "proof of intent" come into play?

nobody1793 10 years, 4 months ago

Would Martin Luther posting an angry letter on the cathedral door be considered vandalism? A hate crime?

dminear60 10 years, 4 months ago

This question is almost as stupid as the one about the correlation between working women and the duration of their marriages.

lunacydetector 10 years, 4 months ago

i recommend dave armstrong's "95 bible passages that confound protestants"

it is a great read for any bible study group.

have a nice day!

Ceallach 10 years, 4 months ago

No, as previously posted, vandalism is vandalism. The invocation of "hate crime" is becoming so rampant that the term is rapidly loosing all of it's intended meaning.

One little point, the building is not the church, the people worshiping in the building are the church. I'm thankful the building where my church meets was not painted.

beatrice 10 years, 4 months ago

A church, yes, but if it is a mosque, then no. Clearly if someone vadalizes a church they are being led by the Devil to do so and deserve a harsh punishment, but vandalize a mosque and you are just doing your part as a good American to rid our nation of that unholy religion.

Seriously, how distorted is this question? Shouldn't it be a more generic and inclusive "religious building" or some such? Do we really want to protect Christian churches only, but to hell with all the rest?

Nothing like letting your biases show in the form of a simple question.

sgtwolverine 10 years, 4 months ago

I dislike the notion of "hate crimes" in the first place, so no, the penalty should be the same as it is for any other vandalism.

mikeyj 10 years, 4 months ago

If courts WERE to rule that vandalism against these churches should be punished more strictly than other buildings, it still wouldn't violate the first amendment. Since the vandals hit Mormons, Nazarenes, Presbyterians, Southern Baptists, Episcopals, Methodists, Lutherans, and Catholics, ruling that the penalty is greater wouldn't be establishing any specific religion as "chosen" by the government. The first amendment is there to protect religious organizations from the government, not the other way around - it says the government cannot "choose" a specific religion/denomination as the state religion and squash all others. Since the vandalism was spread among many different denominations, the courts wouldn't be showing favor to any one. The likelihood, however, of the penalty being higher for a church is very slim.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years, 4 months ago

I think that vandalism should be dealt with as vandalism and hate crimes should be dealt with as hate crimes. Community judgements should be made by and serve the offended individual(s). A judge should determine if the severity of the damage inflicted warrants the community's judgement. This would simplify things so that justice would be SWIFT (only take a decade or two!~)

Seriously, though...those cretins are SO foolish. If they're mad or crazy, they could simply write what they "think" on cardboard signs and walk around yelling for people to observe their stupidity, like the Phelps' do. Hate crimes and graffitti becomes free speech when held on a placard! Too embarrassed to expose your insanity? Hire someone in a plastic Uncle Sam suit to do it for you!~)

Flap Doodle 10 years, 4 months ago

The line between hate crime and thought crime seems to get blurry sometimes.

sunflower_sue 10 years, 4 months ago

Punishment should be no more severe than usual. I saw a church south in town w/ the so called vandalism. It said "Stain." I didn't know if some poor kid couldn't spell "Satan" or if they were just referring to sin in some artistic way. Yeah, annoying, but I think some paint remover or a power washer could take care of it pretty quickly. I'm not trying to belittle the vandalism, but it's certainly not a hate crime.

RI, The thought of you having 10 hours to yourself to goof off every day is pretty interesting. Are you going to put your hotel tips down in a book? But an egg? C'mon, you can make that outside on any hot day via solar energy. How about a nice creme brulee? I bet you can involve the hair dryer.

Kontum1972 10 years, 4 months ago

im think they should put a bag over their head the a rat dropped in and the bag is tied off,,,,leave it in there for about 20 minutes...then remove the bag and see if its done....then serve with some farfil beans,,,wahla!

lets talk defacing propety...!

purplesage 10 years, 4 months ago

No. The trend toward calling everything a "hate crime" or "hate speech" is a precarious trend. Churches get a certain amount of harassment - bozze bottles in the lawn and parking lot. I figure they are intended to make a "statement". I believe that a consistent approach to justice and restitution is the best way.

merrywidow033 10 years, 4 months ago

Dani, if you are going to insult, at least use proper grammar.

their = possession. i.e. 'The crowd was too stupid for their own good.' they're = they are (contraction). i.e. 'They're surely too old not to know the difference!' there = location. i.e. 'Look! There's a dictionary!'

that's the only grammar lesson for free! for the differences between the words to and too, send 5.95$ in a SASE.. erm.. ^_^

sunflower_sue 10 years, 4 months ago

Prospector, that was great! And disturbing...

lunacydetector 10 years, 4 months ago

The churches that got hit, were they "for" or "against" lawrence's new domestic registry? hmmmm....

gogoplata 10 years, 4 months ago

'd like to see someone make a rational argument as to why their should be different punishments for the same offense, particularly in regards to a church, as that's the question that's being asked.

Anyone? Anyone?

Totally agree. That is why "hate crime" punishment is silly.

dminear60 10 years, 4 months ago

mikeyj, I thought the framers intent of first amendment was to prohibit congress from establishing a national religion and forcing a national religion on american citizens. Wasn't the reason so many English citizens migrated to the new world was to escape religous persecution? I do not see the first amendment as protecting religions, I see it as protecting my right to worship (or not) as I choose. The first amendment is about protecting my rights, not the rights of religion.

mikeyj 10 years, 4 months ago

dminear60, I think we're saying the same thing in different ways. I phrased it as the 1st protecting religions by not establishing a single one to the exclusion of all others. You phrased it as the 1st protecting your rights by not establishing a single religion to the exclusion of your chosen belief (or lack thereof). I think we were saying the same thing.

Dani Davey 10 years, 4 months ago

I never said I agreed or disagree with increased penalties for hate crimes, I was just pointing out that the distinction exists in law so it might be something to consider here.

And merrywidow, I didn't insult, nor did I ever use any form of there/their/they're in my comment above. Perhaps you were confusing someone's response to me as my comment? Either way, I am fully aware of the proper way to conjugate those words.

merrywidow033 10 years, 4 months ago

oh dani, i'm so sorry! i was reading- spywell (Anonymous) says: Dani:

oy, my face is RED! i beg your forgiveness!

white_mountain 10 years, 4 months ago

the baby Jesus cries when churches are sprayed with graffiti

jonas 10 years, 4 months ago

merrywidow: Spywell is our resident incoherent typer.

dminear60 10 years, 4 months ago

mikeyj, I stand corrected and I apologize for any confusion on my part.

yourworstnightmare 10 years, 4 months ago

If the vandalism was an overt anti-christian threat, equivalent to the threat of violence behind a burning cross or a swastika, then yes, it would qualify as a hate crime.

If it was simply "dipstick was here" or some other graffiti, then no.

Believe it or not, the property of blacks and jews and muslims get vandalized all of the time without it being a hate crime.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 4 months ago

I agree that if you support hate crimes legislation, you have to support it in this case. Clearly, these churches have been targeted precisely because they are churches. However, if you don't support hate crimes legislation on other criteria it's a little disingenuous to want to apply it here.

Uhlrick_Hetfield_III 10 years, 4 months ago


If I remember the list of churches correctly there was pretty much a cross section of the Christian tradition from right to left, the only thing in common they had was the fact that the only buildings that were vandalized were Christian churches.

I personally think that that makes for a stronger argument that this is an act of hate (whether you choose to punish someone for their state of mind is a separate question) since it demonstrates the lack of discernment for the nuances of the different faith traditions and is simply an attack on religion writ large.

George_Braziller 10 years, 4 months ago

The Journal-World must really be scraping to come up with "news" to fill the rapidly shrinking size of the print version if this is the best question that they can come up with. Church, shrine, temple, private residence, outbuilding, commercial facility -- the penalty should be the same. It's a non question.

Sigmund 10 years, 4 months ago

Marion (Marion Lynn) says: "OK, gang; this was NOT Kristallnacht or anything like it. It's just some drunks or some kids out generating headlines. Such vandalism is really not unusual or rare so let's not get it all blown out of proportion."

This may not be "Kristallnacht", but is worryingly similar. It may be drunken kids, but it may not. In any case the message is clear, hatred for Christians. It isn't hard to imagine these same "drunken kids" 75 years ago burning crosses in yards of blacks or Catholics, while the rest of Lawrence simply winked and nodded. And while isolated incidents of church vandalism are not uncommon, such large scale vandalism is really very unusual and rare or it wouldn't have been "news." Let's hope this doesn't escalate to the level we witnessed in the American South where 55 Christian churches, 13 Jewish "institutions", and 12 Muslim mosques were firebombed in the mid 90's, 1990's, not 1890's.

While I might not argue for a "hate crime" prosecution, I would argue for maximum jail time for each incident and full restitution.

hberciunas 10 years, 4 months ago


I am a co-pastor at one of the churches hit. We are considering leaving up some of the graffitti.

I have been posting on other threads concering this story - I recommend reading them as some of us at our church have a different perspective on these acts.

At this time, although it is not my sole descision, we are not considering any prosecution. I do like the idea of the perps having to come to our church - I don't personally care if they apologize - but we would like to have thier input into our discussions.

remember check out the other threads on this strory

Grace and Peace

hberciunas 10 years, 4 months ago


Thank you for the info. We will take the proper actions.

By the way the verse that you quoted continues . . ."render unto God" - so, if we follow the directive, will you? Render unto God and give your heart and life to Him!

(the real point has nothing to do with either - but dealt with an opponent questioning the paying of taxes)

Grace and Peace

Sigmund 10 years, 4 months ago

It is against the city of Lawrence code to allow graffiti to remain upon your church.

14-1003 GRAFFITI DECLARED A PUBLIC NUISANCE; PROPERTY OWNERS DUTY TO REMOVE GRAFFITI.The existence of graffiti upon any structural component of any building, wall, fence, sidewalk, curb, or structure or other facility on public or private property with the City of Lawrence, Kansas is declared to be a public nuisance and it shall be the duty of the property owner with property defaced by graffiti to remove, abate, or cover such graffiti. In cases where the property owner claims that the graffiti was authorized by the property owner, the public officer shall make findings whether the graffiti is a neighborhood blight and public nuisance findings are made, the graffiti shall constitute a public nuisance and it shall be the duty of the property owner to remove, abate, or cover such graffiti. Graffiti shall be subject to abatement and removal by the City as provided by law. (Ord. 6782)

Render unto Caesar pastor and remove the graffiti.

Curtis Lange 10 years, 4 months ago

Vandalism is vandalism. It shouldn't matter if someone vandalized a dilapidated building or a $2 million dollar home, the punishment should be the same.

Sigmund 10 years, 4 months ago

Thanks for completing the verse, but it speaks to more than just paying taxes, that would be far too narrow of a reading. In my humble opinion He makes a broader point of subjecting oneself to the all legitimate demands of governmental authority including paying taxes. In fact, if memory serves me right, Jesus Himself submitted to being crucified on the cross, in contradiction to both Jewish law and the Roman occupation.

hberciunas 10 years, 4 months ago


It is really more of a statement that Jesus is making about His kingdom - worldly kingdoms really have no significant power in God's Kingdom. Either way . . .

You have a good handle on Ceasar's kingdom, I still wonder about your response due to God's kingdom.

Grace and Peace,

Jeezus 10 years, 4 months ago

Dad makes me scrub it off all the time. I'm working up a paint to water miracle. 'Til then you vandals quit it.

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