I posted a couple of times now about a 14-year-old boy from Pennsylvania who thought it would be hilarious to take pictures with a local Jesus statue as if he were getting a mock-blowjob from the Lord:
He’s currently facing two years in prison for this supposed desecration, a charge that is wildly out of proportion for what he did. As I said before, I don’t condone his actions, but bad taste and immaturity aren’t crimes.
Today, Americans United for Separation of Church and State sent a letter to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins (who has an interesting past of his own) urging him not to prosecute this child:
The teenager has been charged not because he trespassed, defaced, or damaged the statue. Rather, the statute contemplates — and your statements confirm — that the teenager is being prosecuted because of the County’s disagreement with the message conveyed by his conduct, including the teenager’s apparent disrespect for a symbol of the Christian religion. You yourself recently stated, “this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community” and that if the prosecution “tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”
By prosecuting this teenager because of the message conveyed by his actions — and because these actions may have “outraged the sensibilities” of others — the County is violating both the Free Speech and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment. Even if the County obtains a conviction, it is almost certain to be overturned, and the County would also be vulnerable to a lawsuit for civil rights violations.
“While I don’t condone the sort of behavior in which this teen engaged, he didn’t do anything that should be considered illegal,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United’s executive director. “Just because a religious group might find a particular action to be offensive is not a justification for jail time.”
“The government may not throw citizens in jail just because others find their speech offensive or blasphemous,” said AU Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper. “We urge the district attorney to drop this religiously motivated criminal prosecution.”
So far, Higgins hasn’t shown any sign of easing up on the kid, but pursuing legal action against this kid for desecration would inevitably backfire, as AU points out. The kid may be immature, but he didn’t commit the crime they want to pin on him.
(Portions of this article were posted earlier)