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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Western District of Tennessee

Monday, December 9, 2013

Jackson Man Pleads Guilty To Federal Civil Rights Charge Of Desecrating Religious Paraphernalia

Jackson, TN – Justin Shawn Baker, 25, of Jackson, TN, pleaded guilty today to violating the civil rights of students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy by defacing a Torah and religious prayer books, announced U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III.

According to information contained in the indictment and facts revealed during today’s plea hearing, on or about January 12, 2013, students and faculty of the Margolin Hebrew Academy were staying overnight at the Doubletree Hotel in Jackson en route to Gatlinburg, TN. While there, they used a meeting room at the hotel to conduct a Sabbath worship service. A Torah, religious books, and musical instruments were left in the meeting room overnight with the intention of continuing worship services on the following morning.

The facts presented today further revealed Baker admitted that while employed as a security guard at the hotel, he discovered the items in the room, and defaced the Torah, the prayer books, and the musical instruments with profanity, anti-Semitic phrases, and Satanic writing. He also admitted to spitting on the Torah. Photographic evidence presented during the hearing confirmed that the Torah was defaced with profanity and phrases including “Hail Satan.”

“Freedom of religion and the freedom to practice it without harassment are bedrock principles upon which our nation was founded,” said U.S. Attorney Stanton. “Baker’s offensive acts represent an attack upon the rights and freedoms enjoyed by every citizen, which generations of Americans fought and died to ensure and protect.”

This case was investigated by the FBI, and is being prosecuted by Executive Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Laurenzi and Trial Attorney Douglas Kern of the Civil Rights Division’s Criminal Section.

Updated March 19, 2015