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Second Charge Filed For Mosque Defiler In Maine

From Maine’s Portland Press Herald:

A woman listens to speakers during an event where a diverse group of community and church leaders gathered on Wednesday, July 12, 2006, in Lewiston, Maine. Many condemned a hate crime incident in which a Lewiston man allegedly rolled a frozen pig’s head into a mosque as Somali immigrants gathered for evening prayers.

AG files civil rights charges in Lewiston mosque incident

Friday, July 21, 2006

By JOSIE HUANG, Portland Press Herald Writer

A second legal complaint filed against the man accused of rolling a frozen pig’s head into a Lewiston mosque is raising the question: Will there be a third?

Thursday’s decision by the Maine Attorney General’s Office to prosecute Brent Matthews of Lewiston on civil rights violations has mosque members hoping that the federal government will follow.

Local prosecutors at the Androscoggin District Attorney’s Office first charged Matthews, 33, with the misdemeanor crime of desecrating a place of worship.

The state, in its civil lawsuit filed Thursday in Superior Court in Auburn, claims Matthews broke the law because his alleged action targeted Somali and Muslim residents and was motivated by bias based on "race, color, ancestry, national origin and religion."

The complaint pointed out that Matthews has admitted rolling the pig’s head into the mosque on July 3, calling it a joke. It also said Matthews has demonstrated anti-Somali bias. He displayed an anti-immigrant bumper sticker on his car, according to the Maine Attorney General’s Office, although Matthews’ lawyer disputes that.

Federal hate crime prosecutions in Maine are rare, but Abdi Sheikh was hopeful that an FBI investigation into the mosque incident would lead the U.S. Attorney in Portland to press charges.

"I think it will send a powerful message to Mr. Matthews and others who may want to do harm either to the Islamic community or any other community," said Sheikh, the administrative head of the Lewiston Auburn Islamic Center.

U.S. Attorney Paula Silsby was out of the office Thursday, according to an assistant, and could not be reached for comment.

James Howaniec, Matthews’ attorney, expressed frustration at the possibility of a third complaint.

"I’ve been doing this for over 20 years now and I’ve never seen three prosecutors’ offices attempting to get their hands on a misdemeanor charge like they have with this case," Howaniec said.

Matthews has pleaded not guilty to the desecration charge. He faces up to a year in jail if found guilty of that charge and up to $5,000 in fines if he is convicted in the state’s civil lawsuit.

In addition to the fines, the state is asking the court to permanently bar Matthews from having contact with the mosque, and to require him to obey the Maine Civil Rights Act.

If Matthews were to subsequently violate the civil rights act, he could be charged with violating the injunction, which is a crime punishable by up to a year in jail.

In a statement issued Thursday, Maine Attorney General Steven Rowe said that Matthews committed "a threat of violence" that violated the First Amendment right to freedom of religion and resulted in property damage when the pig’s head hit the carpet of the mosque.

"One only need listen to the members of the mosque to realize the pain that this incident caused and the fear that it fostered," Rowe said in a prepared statement.

Pig and pork products are considered dirty in Islamic culture, so some of the 26 men praying fled when the pig’s head was tossed into the sanctuary at around 10 p.m. One 11-year-old boy fainted after seeing what happened, according to the state’s complaint.

Police later removed the pig’s head. Mosque members considered replacing the carpet, but found the cost too high. Instead, they cordoned off part of the sullied area and rented professional carpet-cleaning equipment to wash and dry the carpet seven times in accordance with Islamic religious practice.

For added security, the mosque closed the front and back entryways, despite the warm weather, to prevent non-worshipers from entering, the complaint said.

Attendance at the mosque dropped off in the days after the incident, but the numbers are returning to normal, Sheikh said. A sense of fear about "what could happen next" persists, though.

"Some people were afraid to pray because if someone could throw a pig’s head, what could be next?" Sheikh said.

Lewiston Mayor Lionel Guay maintained Thursday that the pig’s head incident, while unfortunate, was isolated. He stopped short of calling Matthews’ alleged act a civil rights violation.

"I don’t have an opinion one way or another," Guay said. "If the Attorney General’s Office is calling it a violation of civil rights, I guess that’s what we’re going to have go with."

Also on Thursday, Matthews successfully petitioned for changes to his bail conditions. Initially, Matthews was prohibited from going to the mosque or having any contact with Somalis, which Howaniec argued was too broad a restriction. Now he is allowed to travel within a two-block radius of the mosque on the city’s main drag, Lisbon Street.

A restriction against the consumption of alcohol was also lifted because there was no evidence that it was involved in the pig’s head incident, Howaniec said.

He said his client has sought counseling, at his suggestion. Matthews, he said, believes he lost his part-time job as a result of the furor over the pig’s head incident.

"I don’t think ‘depressed’ is the right word, but he’s definitely very discouraged by the course this case has taken," Howaniec said.

Wendy Chapkis of Portland, Maine, makes her feelings known as Khadar Heban films with his 6-year-old son, Mohamed, during an event where a diverse group of community and church leaders gathered on Wednesday, July 12, 2006, in Lewiston, Maine to condemn a hate crime incident in which a Lewiston man allegedly rolled a frozen pig’s head into a mosque as Somali immigrants gathered for evening prayers.

Some religions are more sacred than others, I suppose. But I wonder if this paper is similarly outraged at the actions going on in Somalia as we speak.

Similarly, I wonder if Wendy Chapkis realizes she would probably be stoned to death in Somalia and every other country under Sharia law.

Heck, she’s a two-fer.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, July 21st, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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