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Friday, October 3, 2014

Criminal Justice Quote: Defining the Crime of Desecrating a Venerated Object

     Authorities in Bedford County, Pennsylvania must not prosecute a teenager for the criminal offense of desecration of a venerated object even though he simulated a sex act with a statute of Jesus, Americans United for Separation of Church and State says. In a letter sent on September 22, 2014 to Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins, Americans United says that prosecuting a teenager solely because of the message conveyed by his actions violates the rights of free speech and the separation of church and state, both of which are protected by the First Amendment.

     "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 controversy began when a 14-year-old boy in Everett, Pennsylvania posted on Facebook a photograph of himself simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus. The statue sits on private property in front of an organization called Love in the Name of Christ, and the photo leaves no doubt that the boy climbed on the statue and engaged in behavior many would consider offensive.

     The boy faces up to two years in a juvenile facility under a 1972 state law that makes "desecration, theft, or sale of a venerated object" a second-degree misdemeanor. An act constitutes desecration if it "will outrange the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action." He does not currently face charges of trespassing or destruction of property.

     Americans United's letter notes that the motivation for prosecution of the teen seems rooted in religious belief with intent to protect Christians who may have been offended by the photograph. Recent news reports quoted District Attorney Higgins as saying: "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-the-display-of-Ten Commandments' crowd, I make no apologies."…

"Law Regarding 'Desecration of a Venerated Object' Conflict Conflicts With First Amendment, Church-State Watchdog Says," au.org.media/press-releases, September 22, 2014 

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