Friday, March 13, 2015
NORTHAMPTON — Police say a city man is suspected of spray-painting angry messages about the teachings of Christian Science on the First Church of Christ, Scientist at the corner of Masonic and Center streets.
Police Capt. Jody Kasper said church officials identified the man when police showed them video surveillance that had been captured by cameras outside the police station, which is directly across the street.
“We are looking at this as vandalism and as possibly being a hate crime,” Kasper said.
The graffiti on the church appears to be critical of the Christian Science teaching that prayer can heal medical problems. The website of the national First Church of Christ, Scientist states that the religion does not specifically tell members not to use Western medicine for themselves or their children. It says members are free to seek any kind of health care they choose, but also states that there have been over 80,000 “Christian Science healings” since the founding of the religion in 1879.
The vandal spray-painted “CS KILLS” four times on the church, as well as “CS KILLS BABIES,” “CS KILLS BE,” “NO MEDS,” “CS NO MEME,” and “MBE KILLER.” Kasper said she does not know what is meant by the “CS NO MEME” and “CS KILLS BE” graffiti. MBE are the initials of the church founder Mary Baker Eddy.
According to the national church website, followers of the religion believe that prayer can fix all things, including sickness, relationships, employment problems and world affairs. Their two texts are the Bible and a book Eddy wrote in 1875, “Science and Health.”
On Wednesday morning, two church members had already removed most of the orange spray paint on the sides of the building and were scrubbing at paint on the doors, literature boxes and front pillars. A woman said she would not comment on the incident until she had spoken with other church members and gotten advice from the national organization of the Church of Christ, Scientist, about how to handle media inquiries.
A man cleaning graffiti also said he could not comment officially, but added, “We have nothing but love for the perpetrator.”
Kasper said a passer-by reported the graffiti at 7:10 a.m. Wednesday. The suspect has not been arrested, she said, but will probably be summoned to court to face charges after police determine exactly which charges apply.
Kasper has said in the past that in order to charge someone with a hate crime, the crime must be motivated by prejudice and the object of the crime must feel threatened or intimidated by it.
State law defines a hate crime as an act motivated by bigotry and bias regarding race, religion, ethnicity, handicap, gender, gender identity or sexual orientation, or an act that through harassment, threats or intimidation interferes with a person’s rights.
In January, Northampton Police decided not to charge two teenage girls with a hate crime when they spray-painted anti-Semitic and anti-black graffiti on cars, trees and the street on Sherman Avenue. Police said they did not believe the girls were motivated by prejudice or targeting anyone in particular, but were just trying to be shocking.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.