A former Pace University student faces hate-crime charges for taking paperback copies of the Koran from the campus library on two occasions last fall and disposing of the Muslim holy book in toilets.
Stanislav Shmulevich, a Ukrainian immigrant, was arraigned Sunday in New York Criminal Court on two charges of criminal mischief in the fourth degree as a hate crime.
"The defendant, as a hate crime, intentionally damaged property of another while having no right to do so nor any reasonable grounds to believe that he had such a right," said the complaint filed by the New York County District Attorney's Office.
University officials filed a vandalism complaint with police after the first incident on Oct. 12, when "a copy of the Koran was found in a public toilet" at the Manhattan campus that "was covered in feces." A second copy of the Koran was found in a toilet Nov. 21.
When questioned by police, Mr. Shmulevich, 23, "admitted to committing said acts" and "that he committed the acts out of anger toward a group of Muslim students with whom he had had a recent disagreement," the criminal complaint said.
"We reported it initially as an act of vandalism, then the police hate-crime unit came over and decided to pursue it as a hate crime," said Chris Corey, Pace University spokesman, adding that he was "not at liberty" to discuss the investigation or how Mr. Shmulevich was implicated.
Mr. Shmulevich was arrested Friday after police found a surveillance photograph of him leaving the reading room where the books are kept, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.
He was released from jail after a Sunday arraignment in New York City Criminal Court. Mr. Shmulevich has no criminal record, and works for a European banking firm. Straley M. Thorpe, Mr. Shmulevich's attorney, declined to discuss the specifics of the case, but said the law his client is charged with violating was challenged in past lawsuits on constitutional grounds.
"This may very well be protected speech," Mr. Thorpe said. "The statute is way too vague and broad and includes that of simply annoying people. But this is a free country, and you can't run the risk of annoying people and be charged with a felony."
Asked whether someone was ever charged with a hate crime over the Bible, Mr. Thorpe said "that would take a paralegal a couple of days to research, but this whole situation is fraught with this kind of question."
A search of Lexis/Nexis did not disclose any hate-crime prosecutions for destroying a Bible.
Winfield Myers, director of Campus Watch for the Middle East Forum, called the arrest a step toward the implementation of Islamic law in America.
"One could take a copy of the Bible, the Torah ... abuse it in any way one liked, and never face a criminal penalty for the act of desecration," Mr. Myers said. "Anything goes — unless the keepers of Islam are offended, and then the power of the state must be brought to bear and the offender punished in a criminal court of law."
"The Supreme Court has ruled that Americans can burn the flag and remain immune from prosecution because it is considered to be an act of protected speech. But turn your wrath on the Koran, and you risk arrest and criminal charges. This is Shariah, plain and simple," he said, referring to strict Islamic law.
Mr. Corey said university officials have not been contacted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations; however, the New York chapter released a statement commending the New York Police Department "for its appropriate handling of this case" and said the organization is working with the college's Muslim Student Association and the Association of Muslim American Lawyers "to promote tolerance on the Pace campus."