The Justice Department today announced that a federal grand jury in Memphis, Tenn., has returned a one-count indictment charging Justin Shawn Baker, 25, of Jackson, Tenn., with violating the civil rights of students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy.
The indictment alleges that on or about Jan. 12, 2013, Baker defaced a Torah and religious prayer books which the students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy were using for a worship service conducted at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson.
“This kind of vandalism strikes at the heart of religious freedom in this country, and it will not be tolerated,” said Roy L. Austin Jr., Deputy Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. “Our nation’s civil rights laws protect all denominations, and those who would strike at the right of peaceful citizens to worship will be held accountable.”
“Freedom to practice one’s religion without prejudice is one of the bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded,” said Edward L. Stanton III, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Tennessee. “Criminal acts such as those alleged in the indictment represent an attack on the rights that generations of Americans have fought and died to ensure and protect. Our dedicated civil rights unit will continue to protect and defend the rights of our citizens through vigorous enforcement of federal law.”
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless proven guilty. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum penalty of 1 year in prison.
This case was investigated by the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Larry Laurenzi and Jonathan Skrmetti of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Tennessee and Trial Attorney Douglas Kern of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.