A local church has been targeted after announcing it is willing to house Syrian refugees.
Reverend Bill Freeman of Menifee United Church of Christ, located in Sun City, said the church has been a target of complaints since making the announcement on Friday, Nov. 20, that the church was offering to house those fleeing the conflict in their home country.
“We remember the picture of a Syrian child face down on the beach,” said Freeman when he disseminated the news of the church’s willingness to help the refugees. “We want to do whatever we can to alleviate the suffering of our Syrian brothers and sisters.”
But on Tuesday, Nov. 24, Freemen reported the church had become the target of complaints following its announcement.
“A sign reading, ‘This church is a blasphemous cult,’ was found in the front yard of the church,” wrote Freeman in an emailed statement to Valley News. He also reported a voicemail was left on the church phone threatening protests.
“I was shocked by the hatred that was expressed,” said Freeman. “We are just trying to do what I believe Jesus would want us to do and then this happens.”
Freeman contacted the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department who is currently investigating the case, Department Spokesman Deputy Mike Vasquez said.
“We did receive a call from Reverend Bill Freeman regarding the incident. He has reported the incident to deputies from the station and they are currently investigating it just like they would any other crime at this point,” Vasquez said, adding that the harassment doesn’t meet the level of a hate crime.
“We are looking into all of the avenues that are suggested with the signs and other evidence they uncovered in their investigation,” he said.
Regardless of the harassment the church is facing following its announcement, Freeman said its willingness to help hasn’t changed.
“They are all our brothers and sisters and they just happen to come from Syria and we love them and would welcome them with open arms and these messages won’t change our resolve a bit,” Freeman said. “We shall not be moved.”
The investigation is ongoing and those with information regarding the incidents should contact the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department Perris Station at (951) 210-1000.
To date, 31 state governors have said they oppose letting Syrian refugees into their states. California Governor Jerry Brown has gone on record saying the United States needed to continue to be a place of refuge for those who are oppressed but that refugees needed to be thoroughly vetted.
The final say on the immigration issue will ultimately fall to the federal government, though individual states can make the acceptance process much more difficult, according to experts in the immigration field.
Menifee UCC currently houses four homeless people in its church and would be able to take in a couple of Syrian refugees, said Freeman. Menifee United Church of Christ is located at 26701 McCall Blvd. in Menifee.