A rash of vandalism and theft at three local houses of worship is being met with a call for stiffer penalties for anyone caught stealing or damaging a church, synagogue or a mosque.
Recent break-ins have been recorded at Zoodohos Peghe Greek Orthodox Church, Our Lady of the Assumption Church and City Island’s Temple Beth El.
Community leaders from the Pelham Bay Taxpayers, 45th Precinct Community Council, Waterbury LaSalle Community Association and Community Board 10 supported new legislation proposed by Senator Jeff Klein, at a press conference held near the entrance to Zoodohos Peghe on Sunday, January 29.
The new legislation would make theft or damaging of a religious item in a house of worship worth under $250 into a Class D felony punishable by up to seven years in prison, up from a misdemeanor, while those stealing or damaging more the $250 worth of church property could face five to 15 years in prison.
“These assaults on a house of worship are assaults on the entire community,” Klein said. “These vandals need to know that there will be heavy consequences for their reckless and despicable crimes. This legislation will send that message and protect these scared institutions.”
The disturbing patterns of thieves targeting houses of worship emerged in recent weeks, with Our Lady of Assumption school and parish being hit with the theft of $400 and a stolen laptop, as well as a broken chapel door, according to Klein’s office.
At the Greek church, there was the theft of several dollars from a candle donation box and destruction of an intricate wood carving made in Greece by a craftsman, said parish council president John Korres.
“This was just an unfortunate situation, and we have just as much pain for the person who was so desperate as we do for ourselves,” Korres said, adding he believed that the depressed economy was causing a spike in these kinds of thefts. The break-in was his most devastating experience in more than 20 years on the parish council, Korres said.
On City Island at Temple Beth El, silver Torah crowns and Kiddush cups were stolen sometime around Friday, January 13, said Rabbi Shohama Wiener. The items were worth somewhere between $5,000 and $10,000. “People come [to the temple] because they feel that it is a safe home, but now that safety has been challenged,” Wiener stated.
While the items were insured, they will not give the congregation back the sense of safety it once enjoyed, Wiener said. Temple Beth El is now considering bars for all first floor windows, upgraded locks, surveillance cameras, and an alarm system, Wiener stated.
Crimes against houses of worship should be treated more harshly because the entire community gets harmed when they occur, said 45th Precinct Community Council president Bob Bieder.
“A church is not just a building, it is a community,” Bieder stated.
Patrick Rocchio can be reach via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 742-3393