Petition urges hate-crime probe of mosque fire

A progressive evangelical group has launched an online petition urging the U.S. Justice Department to investigate a July 4 fire at a Missouri mosque as a potential hate crime.

Sojourners, a Washington-based organization dedicated to social justice in a Christian context, sent out an e-mail announcing the campaign July 18. It follows an earlier plea by the Council on American-Islamic Relations for state and federal hate crime investigations of a suspicious fire at the Islamic Society of Joplin, Mo.

The blaze, which did not cause major damage, was the second fire in four years at the mosque in the southwestern Missouri city, best known for its show of unity following a destructive E-5 tornado that resulted in at least 161 deaths and more than 900 injuries in May 2011.

The FBI has offered a $15,000 reward for information leading to an arrest in the case, and released surveillance video of a man walking up to the mosque and throwing something on fire onto the roof.

Sojourners says if Christians are to be taken seriously in their advocacy for global religious liberty, they must begin in their own backyard.

“By asking the Department of Justice to investigate this attack in Joplin as a potential hate crime, Christians can send a clear message that violent attacks targeting Muslims in the United States are unacceptable and must stop,” says a statement on the Sojourners website.

The American Civil Liberties Union has tracked dozen of attacks on American mosques during the last five years, enough to display on an interactive map on the ACLU website.

“We’ve seen a wave of anti-Muslim sentiment and anti-mosque attacks,” Heather Weaver, an ACLU staff attorney told the Joplin Globe. She said such attacks were especially prominent during the debate over the Park 51 Center in New York City, the so-called “ground zero mosque.”

Weaver said it was particularly disturbing that the Joplin incident took place on Independence Day. “I think it’s especially troubling,” she said. “On Independence Day, we should be celebrating all of our freedoms, including freedom of religion.”

The Sojourners petition calls on the federal government to investigate the Joplin incident as a possible hate crime, “devoting to this investigation the attention and resources warranted by the offensive nature of the attack.”

Associated Baptist Press, 18 July 2012