SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 News) – Under Utah’s new hate crimes law, vandalism or arson against churches could be punished more severely, if it’s proven that the act was done out of malicious intent against a person or group’s religion.
In the last seven months, there have been a number of arson and vandalism acts against Latter-day Saint meetinghouses. These incidents occurred in St. George, Cottonwood Heights, Orem, Provo, Cedar Hills, Eagle Mountain and most recently, Herriman.
“These kind of cases victimize not just one person but a whole community,” said Chief Deputy Jeff Hall with the Salt Lake County District Attorney’s Office.
Hall says offenders if caught, could face stiffer penalties under Utah’s new hate crime statute, which finally passed in the 2020 legislative session and went into effect in May.
“We would determine whether or not we could prove beyond a reasonable doubt that not only did the property damage occur, but the reason for the crime, and if the crime was committed because of one of these personal attributes,” said Hall.
Under the statute, vandalism, arson, physical assault or homicide that occurs because of a person or group’s race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation gets an enhanced penalty.
In recent vandalism cases at meetinghouses, there were racial and religious slurs left behind, but prosecutors would have to prove hateful intent for the incident to be considered a hate crime, Hall said.
Thursday, Lt. Cody Stromberg strongly denounced the vandalism found at Herriman High School and the Anthem Ward Latter-day Saint meetinghouse.
“It’s something we will aggressively investigate and prosecute. whether it was intended as a joke or not, it’s painfully offensive and needs to be dealt with,” Stromberg said. And local prosecutors say they’re watching these crimes closely, too.