[Editor’s note: The following statement was issued by JACL Executive Director David Inoue and Public Affairs VP Sarah Baker and was lightly edited only to adhere to AP Style.]
On Feb. 26 the Los Angeles Times reported that the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Los Angeles’ Little Tokyo was vandalized, with two metal lanterns torn from their concrete bases, a 12-foot window smashed, and two wooden lanterns set ablaze.
The vandalism is not the only issue the temple has faced recently, as there have been several instances of trespassing, theft, and assault on the temple grounds in the last month. This comes on the heels of the continued rise in anti-Asian violence that has occurred nationwide, and heavily in California.
The targeting of places of worship is not a new phenomenon. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and gurdwara have long been targets of often white supremacist attacks that have sadly ravaged marginalized communities on the basis of their religion.
Religious freedom is a building block of our nation’s Constitution. The First Amendment states that the people of the United States are free to worship and practice whichever religion they choose. Sadly, we know that this freedom is not free for all. As a result of these attacks, communities, and places of worship have had to rely on security and police presence, often at significant cost. These attacks have robbed communities and worshippers of their safety and peace of mind.
University of Southern California professor and reverend, Duncan Ryuken Williams, notes that “from the vandalism of Chinese American Buddhist temples during the debates about excluding the ‘heathen Chinese’ in the 1800s to the WWII-era government surveillance of temples, arrests of Japanese American priests, and burning of temples in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Asian American Buddhists have long faced religion-racial animus. Asian American Buddhists are distraught about the enduring animus towards those who may not conform to the presumed norm of a White Christian nation, but stand together in a steadfast determination to enact the constitutionally-guaranteed right of religious freedom.”
While the incident is still under investigation, and the LAPD has said it is too early to call the incident a hate crime, any act of vandalism against a place of worship hurts the entire community. The violation of sacred spaces meant to serve as safe havens for their membership is deplorable. The prominent place of Higashi Honganji Temple in the Little Tokyo and Japanese American community demonstrates the continuing escalation of hate incidents against the Asian American community and must be brought to an end. We all know the pain and fear that comes when houses of worship are desecrated. All arms of government should take every possible step to apprehend those responsible and to lead the society-wide condemnation of such assaults.
The following statements of solidarity come from representatives of the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League, the JACL, Muslim Advocates and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund.
Richard S. Hirschhaut (director, AJC Los Angeles) “As Jews, we are acutely aware of the corrosive effect that religious based violence has upon a community. We stand in solidarity with our Asian American friends at this critical time.”
Jonathan Greenblatt (CEO and national director, ADL): “The rise in anti-Asian intimidation and violence that we have seen over the last year is unacceptable and un-American, and reminds us of the long history of Jews being stigmatized during times of societal crisis, and being blamed without basis for the spread of disease. This history compels us to call on all people to reject conspiracy theories and the singling out of Asian Americans, foreigners, immigrants, Jews, or any other communities. Particularly in times of fear, uncertainty, and unrest, each of us must actively promote unity and condemn manifestations of hate.”
David Inoue (executive director, JACL): “The vandalism of Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple is part of the increasing pattern of attacks on the Asian American community. Unfortunately, the added element of religious intimidation is not isolated to this case and has been played out in many other faith communities with even more dire consequences. It is imperative that acts of hatred such as this are made unacceptable both from our governmental leaders and within the local communities surrounding our Asian American community places of worship, businesses, and households.”
Madihha Ahussain (special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry, Muslim Advocates): “A temple is a sacred space where people must feel safe. The waves of vandalism, arson, and attacks we’ve seen on houses of worship in recent years are inseparable from the bigotry we’ve seen in our public dialogue. The Asian American community is under attack and that’s why it’s even more important that authorities make clear that this type of vandalism will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Kiran Kaur Gill (executive director, SALDEF): “SALDEF condemns the acts of vandalization against the Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in LA. As a national Sikh American organization our community knows well the devastating impact of targeted acts of hate. These attacks, fueled by racism and xenophobia have not only taken physical toll on the victims, but also significant emotional stress. Furthermore, this attack is yet another case of the increasing hate crimes against Asian Americans. We stand in solidarity with the AAPI community and demand those responsible be held accountable for their actions. It is of utmost importance we do our part in battling the alarming rise of Anti-Asian violence.”