Inslee visits Sikh temple that was vandalized

SPOKANE — In a show of solidarity with Sikhs in the Inland Northwest, Gov. Jay Inslee traveled to visit a Spokane-area temple that was vandalized in early March.

Inslee visited the temple Wednesday to help celebrate vaisakhi, the holiest Sikh festival.

Inslee, wearing some Sikh garb, assured the community that Washington embraces a diversity of religions.

“In our state, in the Evergreen State, there are no others. There are only Washingtonians,” he said.

Jeffrey C. Pittman is accused in court documents of breaking into the temple because he was hungry and cold, The Spokesman-Review reported.

Prosecutors say he told investigators that he became convinced the temple was a Muslim mosque connected with the Islamic State after he went inside. He’s accused of desecrating a holy book and committing other acts of vandalism.

Pittman’s trial on charges of burglary and malicious mischief is scheduled to begin May 9. He has also been charged with malicious harassment, Washington’s version of a hate crime.

Sikhs are sometimes targeted by people who incorrectly assume they’re Muslim.

Sikh men typically wear a turban, and most are from the Punjab state in northern India.

Inslee said he’s also heard of similar crimes and acts of vandalism committed against Muslims and Jews recently, and said it’s important for people of all faiths to recognize they’re not alone.

“I know that this can be a very painful thing for a community,” Inslee said.

After sitting in the temple, Inslee went downstairs to the kitchen, where he ate Punjabi food with temple members.

Sikh Temple members said they’ve been moved by the show of support following the vandalism incident.

The break-in happened on a Thursday. By that Sunday, community members had come together to replace the carpet and sheets and clean everything up in time for regular services the following Sunday.

Subarna Nagra, a member of the Sikh community, said people from all over the world contacted them to show support.

Inslee reached out several weeks ago and made plans to visit.

Temple leaders say the vandalism has renewed their desire to educate the community about Sikhism.

“It is just a lack of education and identification,” said Hardyal Singh Virk, a leader at the temple. “He thought that we were some other people.”

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