Teen Faces Two Year Sentence for ‘Denigrating’ a ‘Venerated Object’

A teenager in Everett, Pennsylvania took a picture of himself standing in front of a statue of a kneeling Jesus, making it look like he was getting oral sex from it. Stupid? Yep. Childish? Yep. Tasteless? Yep. But criminal? Apparently so. He’s been charged with what is essentially blasphemy.

The young man posted that he took the pictures in late July at the statue of a kneeling Jesus in front of the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization in his hometown of Everett.

The criminal charge, which will be heard in family court, consists of “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”

Pennsylvania law defines desecration as “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”

He faces two years in juvenile detention if convicted of a crime that should not exist. That’s far more outrageous than his own idiotic behavior.

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  • sh3baproject

    at least he didnt jerk in front of it.

  • colnago80

    As I understand it, the statue is on private property so they could get him for trespassing.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    Trespassing, yes. Vandalism if he actually did any damage. But the mere existence of “Desecration of a Venerated Object” on the books is “establishment of religion,” plain and simple. I hope this kid is able to challenge the constitutionality of the law.

  • http://motherwell.livejournal.com/ Raging Bee

    This is, I can’t help noticing, VERY similar to how Pussy Riot were treated for small misdemeanors like trespassing and disturbing the peace.

  • Wesley Elsberry

    I can see a trespassing charge working.

    According to the law’s text, though, I don’t see how the prosecution can possibly construe a photo as defacement, damage, pollution, or “physical mistreatment”. Hopefully the kid’s lawyers ask the prosecution to prove the *physical* mistreatment that must be due to the kid for a charge to stick. And hopefully the kid did nothing beyond taking a photo for them to find.

  • John Pieret

    Despite that recent 6th Circuit decision about the Christian protesters outside the Arab Fair, I can’t see how the last clause of that law, “or otherwise, physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action” can pass Constitutional muster. Sure, defacing, damaging or polluting someone else’s property can be criminal offenses, as could the trespassing necessary to pull the stunt off, but merely putting up on the web a picture that others find offensive?

    But note that at least some Christians think it is perfectly fine to offend the sensibilities of Muslims by waving around a dead pig’s head but what do you want to bet those same Christians would be up in arms about this kid?

  • iangould

    Tell me again about how America is the Home of True Freedom.

  • dugglebogey

    If it was open to the public, even if it was private property, then a trespassing charge is bullshit, unless he was asked to leave and refused.

    If he didn’t damage anything, then his behavior is protected by the first amendment, freedom of expression. If people were offended, that’s their fucking problem.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Let’s photoshop the picture to substitute Mohammed, Obama, Darth Vader, Steamboat Willie, Bette Midler [1], and the Pope for Jesus and see if the jury finds them equally blasphemous.

    And would the picture(s) be just as incriminating if they were shopped instead of posed?

    [1] Hey, she’s divine.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    I agree with #5. The text of the law seems to indicate that physical harm is required, and there apparently was none here. A photograph doesn’t hurt the statue.

    That said, the law seems superfluous; vandalism is already illegal. The law seems designed to give extra protection to the sensitivities of the religious, so, probably not Constitutional.

  • Childermass

    “A photograph doesn’t hurt the statue.”

    It takes away its soul.

    😉

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    I started to do some research into blasphemy laws in the US, and I found a very interesting fact: the Pennsylvania law this kid is being charged with was struck down in 2010 by a US District Court for being unconstitutional. The case was Kalman v. Cortes.

    From the ACLU:

    The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania filed suit on February 18, 2009, on behalf of George Kalman, a filmmaker who was prevented from incorporating his business under the name of his choice because it violates a Pennsylvania statute that prohibits corporate names containing “words that constitute blasphemy…or that profane the Lord’s name.”

    Kalman, a Downingtown resident, is the founder and CEO of a film production company called “I Choose Hell Productions.” In late 2007, Kalman applied to the Pennsylvania Department of State Corporation Bureau for a certificate of organization for his business. His application was rejected because the “entity name may not contain words that constitute blasphemy, profane cursing or swearing or that profane the Lord’s name,” a direct quote from a Pennsylvania statute.

    The statute is unconstitutional because the commonwealth relies on a religious standard to determine if a business name is acceptable or not. It also violates Kalman’s free speech rights by allowing anonymous government officials to refuse business names that offend them.

    Kalman says he chose the name of his production company because he believes it expresses his personal philosophy that it is better to struggle through difficult times in life than to commit suicide, even if life is “hell.”

    The specific Pennsylvania statue in question is § 1303(c)(2)(ii) of Title 15 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

    On June 30, 2010, the courtstruck down thestatute as unconstitutional.

    So he’s being charged four years AFTER the law was invalidated by a federal court. Yeah, this is going to turn out well for the city.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    Disregard my post above. I’ve been able to track down the statute the kid’s been charged with: it is § 5509(a)(1) of Title 18. Completely different and, presumably, still in force. Pennsylvania still has not bothered to put its code online, so I cannot look at the exact text or any marginalia.

  • Holyboy

    Ditto. I agree with both #5 & #10. I hope the ACLU and LGBT folks would recognize the possible danger to the first amendment if this bullshit arrest sticks and the teenagers life is ruined for LESS than nothing.

  • a miasma of incandescent plasma

    And here all this time I thought Jesus wanted everyone to come to him??

  • a miasma of incandescent plasma

    I bet Faith+1 was playing in the background.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81ibVbxkjnA

  • http://drx.typepad.com Dr X

    This doesn’t even sound like criminal trespass under PA law, which may be why he wasn’t charged with trespassing.

    http://law.onecle.com/pennsylvania/crimes-and-offenses/00.035.003.000.html

    I wonder if there was a search for something to charge him with because they knew trespassing wouldn’t stick.

  • http://ahcuah.wordpress.com/ ahcuah

    Dr X is right. If there was no sign, and he didn’t damage the statute, it’s not criminal trespass. And for Gregory, 5509(a)(1) is here:

    § 5509. Desecration, theft or sale of venerated objects.

    (a) Offense defined.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the

    second degree if he:

    (1) intentionally desecrates any public monument or

    structure, or place of worship or burial;

  • Nell Webbish

    I would think that Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 would have overturned the portion of laws that tried to criminalize “desecration” that did not entail any kind of damage.

  • http://www.gregory-gadow.net Gregory in Seattle

    @ahcuah #18 – Many thanks. It seems that the statute defines desecration as, “Defacing, damaging, polluting or otherwise physically mistreating in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”

    That is going to be a very difficult definition to apply in this case, I think.

  • busterggi

    The problem for the poor believers is that they are terrified that Jesus might have liked it.

  • matty1

    I looked at the picture and I’m not so sure that is a statue, it may be the real JC having a little fun on the sly.

  • EnlightenmentLiberal

    But the mere existence of “Desecration of a Venerated Object” on the books is “establishment of religion,” plain and simple.

    Also the “free speech” clause. IMHO, more importantly becase of the “free speech” clause.

    § 5509. Desecration, theft or sale of venerated objects.

    (a) Offense defined.–A person commits a misdemeanor of the

    second degree if he:

    (1) intentionally desecrates any public monument or

    structure, or place of worship or burial;

    If the above is the law he’s being charge with, then it’s unconstitutional as applied. (A facial challenge would depend on the meaning of “desecrate”.) Now – I’m no lawyer – but with my modicum of education, this is a slam dunk case. Unfortunately, that “slam dunk win” will happen only after some appeals, which are long and very expensive, putting them out of the reach of most people. I hope the ACLU or someone offers to depend him pro bono.

  • http://mostlyrational.net tacitus

    Apparently, the ACLU is aware of the case and has already reached out to the family about the case, so it probably depends on what the parents want to do about it.

    Unfortunately, the prosecutor for the case has already revealed himself to be a bit of a right-wing wanker:

    “I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins said Thursday on his Facebook page. “As for this case, this troubled young man offended the sensibilities and morals of OUR community. … His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.”

    So, hopefully, the kid’s parents will decide engage the ACLU’s help to fight the charges.

  • Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    A teenager in Everett, Pennsylvania took a picture of himself standing in front of a statue of a kneeling Jesus, making it look like he was getting oral sex from it. Stupid? Yep. Childish? Yep. Tasteless? Yep.

    You missed one: Funny? Yep.

  • iangould

    Shit on a Koran and that prosecutor will be a First Amendment absolutist.

  • John Pieret

    His actions constitute a violation of the law, and he will be prosecuted accordingly. If that tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd, I make no apologies.

    Well, the prosecutor is making the ACLU’s job very, very easy. Now, if only the kid’s parents aren’t the same sort of religion-drunk Christians, it’ll be time to break out the popcorn and beer!

  • samgardner

    I don’t find the photo all that funny. It’s not nice to rape a statue.

    It’s of course ludicrous to be trying to charge him under this idiotic law.

  • ludicrous

    Often the young are more perceptive than the big people. Apparently the biographers didn’t think jesus’ straighthood would be an issue or they would have included in the stories some girlfriends or wives.

  • lorn

    In earlier times that sort of thing would get you a stern talking to. Or, if the cop wanted to be a dick about it, hauled down to the station where your mother would get called in, and then there would be a tag-team stern talking-to.

    On the up side, as the legal eagles would point out, being charged is not the same as being convicted. The fact is that if you you wish to change the law someone has to be charged so the law can be brought up in court, and declared unconstitutional in some manner.

    Which paints this event less as a miscarriage of justice and more of a opportunity for realignment of the law with the constitution.