Swastikas painted on Chapel Hill church

mschultz@newsobserver.comOctober 31, 2012 

— A Chapel Hill church that has been running ads in town buses, calling for an end to U.S. military aid to Israel, had swastikas and the word “Nazis” painted on its building last weekend.

Someone spray-painted nine swastikas on the education building of the Church of Reconciliation on Elliott Road, said Sgt. Josh Mecimore of the Chapel Hill Police Department. The word “Nazis” was also painted on the building, according to the pastor.

“Volunteers quickly removed the ugly symbols. There was no permanent damage to the building,” the Rev. J. Mark Davidson said in a letter to The Chapel Hill News. “The damage to young minds and spirits? Not so easily wiped off.”

The church has ignited a local controversy over whether political or religious ads belong on Chapel Hill Transit buses, with dozens of emails to Town Hall, speakers at Town Council meetings and letters to the editor on both sides of the issue.

The ad, part of a national campaign, shows a pair of Palestinian and Israeli grandfathers holding their grandchildren with the message: “Join with us. Build peace with justice and equality. End U.S. military aid to Israel.”

Town leaders recently suspended any new political and religious ads on buses after discovering they had actually prohibited them in June 2011 but that the bus system was not using the amended version of the policy.

The amendment specifically excludes religious advertising “in which the primary message is one promoting or opposing religion, particular religions, religious issues, or religious doctrines.” It also excludes ads that promote or oppose “a particular view on political or social issues.”

“This was an extraordinarily rare thing to ever happen in this town,” Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said last week. “It was a mistake, it was discovered, and we’re quickly taking action to remedy it.”

The Church of Reconciliation, which paid $774 in August to run ads inside 98 buses for one year, has been allowed to keep them up to honor the contract.

Mecimore said police have no leads on the weekend vandalism.

Since 2000, there have been 64 reports of vandalism on church property in Chapel Hill, he said. He said there was no immediate way to see how many of those incidents involved swastikas.

The Town Council is scheduled to discuss its bus advertising policy when it meets Monday.

Schultz: 919-932-2003

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