Serving the community since 1922

EDITOR'S NOTE | Jamie Stewart

One man’s vandalism is another man’s religion?

An article last week in The Press included pictures of a few residents’ gravesites being defaced in the name of religion. It happened out at the Shafter Cemetery. I love that cemetery and have family buried out there, so I would never try to say anything against the cemetery or the wonderful staff that works out there.

I do want to make clear that what happened recently shouldn’t be ignored or swept under the rug, which, with indications that this was not the first time this has happened, might have been the case in the past.

For anyone who may not have read the article, dozens of graves at the Shafter Cemetery were defaced, some with chunks of meat wrapped in twine, and others with broken eggs all over the headstone.

After talking with the Shafter Police Department, a spokesperson for the department said that they had dealt with this in the past and that this was not considered vandalism. They said that it was a case of an individual or group practicing an alternative religion. I was really shocked by this. I have had experience with a couple of different groups in the past that have had these practices in their beliefs. But, I don’t believe that you should be able to tamper with graves of people that you may not even know, or that have nothing whatsoever to do with that particular religion.

Some research led to a couple of examples that seem to negate the ruling by the police department. Former President Obama signed into law a bill that amended the Freedom of Religion Act, making it illegal to deface a place of worship or cemetery in the practice of one’s religion. There is also a California Penal Code No. 594.3 states, “Vandalism of a place of worship or cemetery is illegal, and any person who knowingly commits any act of vandalism to a church, synagogue, temple or cemetery is guilty of a crime.’

I have had a few people call me outraged that something like this is going on in Shafter. I have also had a couple of family members not thrilled that I put it in the paper in the first place, fearing for repercussions. Well, I didn’t think it would take too long to find it. I had a bit of a confrontation at a local store the other day with a “concerned citizen” who thought that my article seemed to be aimed at restricting people’s freedoms and beliefs. I told the gentleman that I didn’t want to impede on anyone’s beliefs, but I didn’t agree with anyone pushing their beliefs and practices on people that are not involved in that religion. The person or persons who did this didn’t even know the majority of the people whose graves were affected.

I wasn’t surprised when I next received some friendly advice in this “conversation.” “I would put an article correcting the story or you could certainly find out more than you want to about my religion,” this unidentified person said.

Threatening or not, I’m still hoping for a little more to be done to protect the graves of our loved ones.


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