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Vandalism of Waldo County church stirs conversation over hate crimes

After an anti-abortion sign was covered in paint, worshipers at one congregation in Palermo are calling for legal action.

PALERMO, Maine — A vandalism of a church in Waldo County is igniting a debate over what constitutes a hate crime in Maine.

Sometime on Saturday night, vandals covered with paint a sign reading “abortion is Murder,” which hangs on the side of the Second Baptist Church Palermo. They also scrawled the words “Abortion is our Human right” and “Queer love 4 eva."

“This is an escalation of violence against the church,” State Representative Katrina Smith, who is also a member of Second Baptist, said of the crime Tuesday.

This is not the first time the church—which has often publicly displayed its views on abortion and LGBTQ+ rights—has been the target of vandalism. In 2019, someone rearranged the letters in the sign reading “Jesus made Adam N Eve not Adam and Steve.” And before this week’s vandalism, another bucket of paint spilled over the anti-abortion sign.

The repeated destruction of property is leading Smith and other congregants to a new conclusion. “Well to me, it’s a hate crime. This is a group of young children, families, just local people, and they have done nothing to speak out against any of the issues right now,” Rep. Smith said.

Maine’s criminal code defines a hate crime as any time a person attempts “to injure, intimidate or interfere with or intentionally oppress or threaten any other person in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege.”

If the Palermo case fits this mold, it isn’t necessarily clear. Timothy Zerillo, a trial attorney based in Portland, says an element of vandalism targeting a church could qualify it as a hate crime. 

“Destruction of property… theoretically falls into the category of hate crime in the state of Maine,” Zerillo said on Tuesday.

For now, though, judging what happened last weekend remains outside of the courtroom and in the community. Bob Kurek serves on the Palermo Select Board. He sees the issue in stark terms.

“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And even if that opinion is a strong opinion, it does not give people who disagree with that opinion the right to vandalize property or destroy property.”

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