GA Supreme Court: Giving the Pastor the Finger in Church is Protected Speech October 4, 2017

GA Supreme Court: Giving the Pastor the Finger in Church is Protected Speech

A bizarre court case has led to a sensible ruling.

In 2014, David Justin Freeman (below) attended 12Stone Church in Flowery Branch, Georgia. The pastor asked congregation members to stand up if they were teachers so that everyone else could pray for them before the start of the new school year. About 50 of the 250 members stood up.

That included Freeman, but not because he had any sympathy for the public school teachers. According to the court case, the home-schooling Freeman “raised his middle finger in the air and stared angrily at the pastor.”


Pastor Jason Berry was concerned enough by what he saw that he contacted a local sheriff, who then arrested Freeman for “disorderly conduct.” Freeman was later convicted, which meant a year of probation and a fine of $270.

As Freeman was taken out of the church, he allegedly screamed to the audience, “Don’t send your kids to the evil public schools. Don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids.”

The issue wasn’t the screaming. The issue was whether the middle fingers in the air amounted to disorderly conduct. Was Freeman violating the law when he silently flipped the pastor the bird in church?

Yesterday, the Georgia Supreme Court unanimously overturned the earlier conviction.

… Freeman raised his middle finger as a form of protest, and there is no evidence that Freeman engaged in additional threatening conduct that would have elevated his raised middle finger to the level of conveying “fighting words” or a “true threat.” The evidence reveals that he stared angrily at Pastor Berry and did nothing more while he raised his middle finger in silence from the back of the church. This would not rise to the level of “fighting words” or a “true threat” as a matter of law… [B]ecause Freeman’s actions did not amount to such fighting words or a true threat, the pastor could not have been placed in “reasonable fear of the safety of [his] life, limb, or health” consistent with the parameters of OCGA § 16-11-39 (a) (1). Accordingly, Freeman’s raised middle finger constituted a constitutionally protected expression

Was it disrespectful? To some, maybe. But it wasn’t illegal.

Should make for some interesting services this weekend.

(Thanks to Brian for the link)

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