Pennsylvania teenager faces jail time for “desecrating a venerated object”

September 11, 2014 • 7:29 am

Blasphemy in the U.S.???

Reader jsp called my attention to what seems a gross inequity in punishment, something that shouldn’t be happening in America. A teenager photographed himself in a compromising position with the statue of Jesus on a church lawn.  I’ve seen dozens of such pictures, and not just with Jesus, but it was the Jesus bit that got him in trouble. First, the picture and then the story, both from KRON 4 News in San Francisco:


EVERETT, Pennsylvania (KRON) — A Pennsylvania teenager is facing criminal charges after posting pictures to Facebook of him simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus.

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.”

The teen, whose name has not been released, could face up to two years in a juvenile jail if convicted.

For crying out loud, what is that law doing on the books? “Venerated object?”, really? Let’s see them try to convict somebody for burning a Bible or the Qur’an under that law. While what the kid is doing doesn’t really qualify as “free speech,” the most it could be is trespassing, and he should just have been let off with a warning. Now he’s going to court and could go to jail (I predict he won’t).

But that law is unconstitutional. For instance, I suppose I could say that I venerate Hitchens’s book God is Not Great.  If somebody damages it, could I take them to court? If I couldn’t because “venerated objects” apply only to religious objects, then that’s a violation of the Constitution.

This is America, not Saudi Arabia. Religion gets no pass. There is no damage here, and maybe a bit of trespassing, but desecration? Give me a break.

Because the piece was published in San Francisco, you can guess what the comments are like. Here are two:

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170 thoughts on “Pennsylvania teenager faces jail time for “desecrating a venerated object”

  1. I guess the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is that they ‘behead’ for blasphemy, and we threaten jail for attempting to ‘receive divine head’??? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

      1. There are quite a few songs that take on new and improved meaning, such as

        Joy to the world, the Lord has come…


        Dearest Lord, I come I come

  2. Trespassing? Naaa. I think he should be convicted of jackassery and given 10 lashes of a stiff cane in the town square.

    Just kidding, of course but I think this is just ridiculous behavior.

    1. Of course it is ridiculous behavior. Making a criminal charge for failing to “venerate” is totally ridiculous.

      Oh… you meant the kid’s behavior.

    2. The only “punishment” this dude should receive IMO is that he should be forced to read a book, or even make it, 10 books!

      1. Yes, it would be a venerable teenage “dude” (and not a girl – or am I being sexist and stereotyping?) who would do something like this, or at least publish it for the world to see.

        If he were doing it to what here in the Land of the Fee is a most venerable object – a $100 bill – that would truly cause a massive outrage. (Or to the Merrill-Lynch bull on Wall Street – is that on private or public property?)

        What if he bought a venerable object at a religious gift shop and then commenced his behavior in a public square; would he have a free speech defense?

        “We bear the stamp of our lowly origin.”

        No wonder approx. 50% of public school teachers leave the profession after five years, working as they do in places concentrated with such consecrated behavior.

  3. ‘While what the kid is doing doesn’t really qualify as “free speech,”…’

    I disagree. This is definitely a speech act, demonstrating his irreverent beliefs. A decent lawyer could get it classified as performance art.

    1. Its trespassing because it’s someone else’s private property. If he wants to do performance art, he is welcome to buy his own statue, put it on his own grounds/in his own art studio, and perform away.

      I totally agree that the whole ‘Desecration’ concept needs to be removed from the books. It shouldn’t exist as a crime. However, climbing all over someone else’s private property statue is certainly a form of behavior we can (and probably should) prevent.

      1. Where’s the ‘Keep off the Christ’ sign?
        Nobody (except a lawyer in some backwater state) could reasonably call it trespassing where no boundary is marked.

        1. So, I am free to come into your driveway at night and stand on the hood of your car, because hey, there’s no ‘no trespassing’ sign and I probably won’t damage it by doing so?

          1. I think that’s a bad analogy. First because climbing on the hood of a car can dent and scratch it…. permanent physical damage.

            The question I have is this: Would anyone be having this conversation if someone walked up to this statue and kneeled alongside Jesus, and did some praying? I’m guessing the Christians would be all happy and talking joyous things.

            What if it was a Muslim guy who brought his magic carpet, laid it next to Jesus, and did some worshiping-toward-Mecca? I’m guessing a gun-toting yahoo would have taken pot shots.

            1. It might dent and scratch it yes. Just like climbing on a statue might cause a chip or fracture or scratch off some paint.

              If you’re going to say one should be illegal because it might cause damage, the same is true for the other.

              But if you want to defend the “no harm no foul” position John seems to be defending, it’s going to apply to both of them too, yes?

              A statue is property. Its exactly like a car. You don’t want someone climbing all over yours because it might damage it. Well, the church is entitled to the same consideration.

              1. But the statue is not in fact like a car. The probabilities of damage are not equal. If the statue was made of glass instead of concrete, the chances that it would be damaged would be very different.

                My property is trespassed on constantly. And I’m often the victim of property damage done by drunken students (I live near a university). I’m not clueless about property damage. (Nor am I suggesting John’s “Keep off the Christ” sign makes sense.)

                But I’m also not so mentally rigid that I think it reasonable to take to court every offense against my property. Minor trespass is a crime that doesn’t warrant prosecution. And in this case, the trespass was juvenile but trivial. If, as I suggested elsewhere on this page, a Christian trespassed, climbed on concrete Jesus in order to better pray, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

        1. Yes, trespassing is actionable here, however it must be based on a complaint lodged by the owner of the property. The police can’t just see someone and haul them in for trespassing.

    2. I think it would be freedom of expression. His behaviour is perhaps vulgar and perhaps there is some small charge for that.

      1. That’s exactly what I thought. Vulgar and lewd behaviour in public, which would be the same were it a statue of some other person. I wonder what would happen here were it a statue of, say, the Queen?!

        But no jail time is warranted. He’s just being a teenage jerk (jerk-off?) Maybe a little community service scrubbing off graffiti or working at a food bank… that sort of thing.

        1. Was anyone around at the time he took these photos? If not, then it can’t be said to have happened “in public” and so isn’t lewd behavior in public.

    3. If it’s legal to do a non-innuendo selfie photo with the statue, then the selfie photo with sexual innuendo should also be legal.

      After all, if he done a selfie that didn’t offend religious sensibilities, we wouldn’t even be talking about the free speech vs. trespassing question.

      Trespassing isn’t the issue — government disapproval of the photo’s message is the issue.

      1. If he’s under 18 (why else would he be going to juvie.) , a prosecutor might try for child pornography. Kids have been prosecuted before for selfies. A lewd act involving an underage person (even clothed) would count.

  4. I think my copy of the constitution is defective. My copy of the first amendment is missing the part where religious freedom goes out the window if you offend the delicate sensibilities of a bunch of mooks in Pennsylvania whom don’t know how to laugh off teenage jackassery.

    1. Must have been a bad print run. Mine is missing the same section. I wonder if the local book store will exchange it.

    1. Yeah, I was just thinking that the best way to handle this would be for hundreds of people in the area to perform and document similar religious acts.

      And surely this kid has a good chance to take this all the way to the Supreme Court and become a free speech hero.

  5. When I saw this story, I did a double-take: a Texas statute of exactly the same name was scrutinized in the famed Supreme Court case Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), known to most as the flag-burning case. Wikipedia has a good summary– I tend to agree with Professor Coyne that this statute is unconstitutional, though the rise of hate-crimes legislation in the 1990’s (something about which I am quite conflicted) leaves me a bit unsure how modern courts would interpret this. Still, knowing what I know about the justice system, this will likely be pled as trespassing or something similar, as I think appropriate.

    1. The ‘hate crime ‘ definitions as well as the unfolding ‘anti bullying ‘ definitions of bullying are a very worrying development. Particularly since groups who have supported free speech in the past seem to think this is a ‘good thing ‘

      There is nothing as dangerous as someone acting for a good cause.

    1. Private property, so trespassing is the only crime you could really charge him with. I don’t see how this “venerated object” law can stand.

      1. The venerated thing should definitely go (i.e., not be a crime).

        But it probably should be a misdemeanor to go climbing over someone else’s statue/stuff on their lawn. Hopefully trespassing covers it and we don’t need any additional law. But I really don’t other people to have the right to go dancing on my garden gnomes. They’re my property, on my grounds. You want to step on some, go buy your own.

        1. Yes, trespassing does technically apply, and I think trespassing laws are good things to have.

          With the technical legal aspect out of the way, do you think having the kid charged with a crime for this trespassing incident, which apparently went unnoticed until certain people saw the photo, is appropriate? Yes, legally he could be charged, perhaps, but do you think he should be? I don’t. I wouldn’t dream of pursuing criminal or civil charges against a kid who trespassed once on my property and climbed on my statue for a moment. If he vandalized it, or did it regularly even after I’d asked him, yelled at him, tried a couple other things, perhaps then.

          I think it would be ridiculous to charge the kid with trespassing. I think that while being, perhaps, technically correct it would be an abuse of the law. Trespassing laws are not important because they protect against incidents like this.

          1. Given that this is the fourth or fifth time its happened, and that even stone statues probably lose some amount of integrity over time when people climb all over them, yes, I think it’s okay for the church to start bringing charges. They want to preserve their property from damage, and behavior like this probably reduces their property’s expected lifetime.

            Clearly we are not talking about jail time or thousand dollar fines here. Those sorts of penalties are not appropriate for such a minor incident. But the equivalent of a parking or speeding ticket? $50-200 range fine? Yeah, I’m fine with that. And no, I wouldn’t charge people that for walking around on the grass by the sidewalk. You only do so to the people climbing on the statue.

            I made this analogy above but will repeat it here: some guy climbs up on the hood of your car and takes a selfie. It doesn’t dent your car (this time). But the local teens start following his example and it happens several more times. Wouldn’t you feel entitled to having law enforcement stop it?

            1. I feel entitled to use law enforcement on my behalf anytime the law technically allows for it. The line where I think it is appropriate to do so, and will actually do so, depends on my judgement of the specific circumstances, as it does to anyone’s.

              If a local teen sat on my car I’d ask him to get off, and ask him to never do so in the future. If he did it again I’d take the issue to his parents. If others followed his example the same would apply. If none of that worked and the problem persisted, then I might attempt to involve law enforcement, which almost certainly would not help the problem. But then, that is exactly what I already said up above, though a bit more generally.

              If a teen pretended to be fellated by my extra large garden gnome and he didn’t have the extra bad taste to do it in front of me or my dinner guests, and I saw a picture of it or was later told by the kid next door, I really wouldn’t care too much about it.

              And yes, I realize that’s just me and, obviously, I am aware that other people’s opinions on this vary widely. My opinion is that my take on this kind of thing is more reasonable and ethical than, and is more conducive to creating a more reasonable and ethical society than, for example, the church’s in this incident.

              1. Here, the teen climbed on it. That, to me, is a relevant secular point. I would defend bringing in the police if it was an atheist houshold and the statue was Dawkins. Or a Buddhist statue for a Buddhist family. Or, as I said above, pretty much any family faced with teens that keep coming by and standing on their car.

                If he wants to stand next to the statue in a rude pose, I have far less objection and would, like you, think that trespassing charges or other legal action is not called for in that case. But he’s not standing next to it, he’s climbing on it. Stone and plaster is not hard steel, it can easily crack and break. The owners have a legitimate and perfectly reasonable right to keep people off of it.

                Now if they can call the kid’s parents and the pictures stop, great! If they can put up a sign and the pictures stop, that’s great too! But if they can’t stop it by such actions, I’m fully supportive of the notion of giving out minor fines for this sort of action.

              2. You make it sound like this is a constant and continuing problem. There is no evidence that this is so.

                The alleged crime here is not that the statue is in danger of being damaged. It is that disrespect has been shown to the feelings of believers.

    1. Ah, but if we conceive of a being that is Omniscient, Omnibenevolent and Omnipresent, doesn’t is stand to reason that this entity would also be Omniconsensual?

      1. Being Omnipresent, Jesus is in the statue and in the kid, no? Being Omniscient, He knew even before He created the Universe, that this was going to happen. Yet even being Omnipotent, He did nothing to prevent this.

        If Jesus doesn’t care, should His followers?

  6. Funny picture, though it makes me laugh also for the reason that merciful Christians want to punish this guy.

    Christianity is mired by hatred brought on by insecurity and fear. Fear of death and, of course, sex.

      1. Actually they do not fear sex. They fear the desire for sex.

        Likewise, they do not fear death, they fear it does not entail everlasting bliss but the returneth into dust and the meal of a worm.

  7. I read in another story this is only a misdemeanor, so no jail time. Still, a stupid law, and it seems to require actual physical damage, so not even applicable.

    And, I’m going to stop now, because everything I try to say now is at best a double-entendre. Godhead.

  8. The charges might differ depending on whether this is private property or public (and it should not be public property). But at the very most he could be charged with public indecency for committing a lewd act. There would be no jail time (pants are on, and assuming no prior record). No particular charge should be leveled regarding religious nature here.
    The kid is also a total jerkwad, btw.

      1. I was not a jerkwad when I was a teen, but even if I was I now get to call a jerkwad a jerkwad b/c the hypothetical me is no longer a jerkwad.

          1. Yes, j.w. would claim to not be a j.w. I guess you do not need to accept my claim that I am not a j.w.
            Actually, that suggests that I am not such a creature….

    1. There is no telling, something like public indecency could certainly be made to stick. But, if no one saw the actual act, unless there was a friend behind the camera, that charge doesn’t seem applicable at all to me.

      Can’t agree with jerkwad either. Not based on this anyway. I’d be more inclined to give him a laugh.

  9. Wouldn’t the burning of Old Glory, an act ruled by the Supreme Court to be protected by the Constitution, fall under the Pennsylvania law regarding the desecration of a venerated object?

  10. This case reminds me of the time maybe 20 years ago that a famous entertainer was prosecuted for urinating on the Alamo in San Antonio,Texas. I’m getting old and don’t remember details as well as I wish I could, but the issue there was also desecration of a “venerated object”. It had nothing to do with religion.

    1. I believe that was Ozzy Osbourne at the Alamo! And I can think up tortured fact scenarios where application of this law would be constitutional. For instance, let’s say I visited the Liberty Bell. I have to go to the bathroom, so I pull my pants down and urinate on it. Afterwards, I say I knew it would offend people, but I really had to go. In that instance, I think I could be prosecuted under this law without any kind of constitutional infirmity. Just an odd thought experiment.

    2. Speaking of desecration of a venerated object and Texas, 25 years ago Paul Cullen poisoned the Treaty Oak in Austin, a historic and old live oak. He was convicted of felony criminal mischief, not desecration. He got nine years in prison.

      As for this kid and the Jesus statue, there are lots of funny images you can find on the Internet with people making funny poses with statues. Examples. The only thing different this kid did was that his pose was somewhat more lewd than average, and he had to trespass to do it.

      I think the caption to the photo should read “Forgive us of our trespasses.”

        1. Both those tree-murderers deserved jail time, never mind whether the trees were ‘venerated objects’ or not.

          Peeing on the Alamo – or a tree – or pretending to hump a Jesus – no worries, it isn’t going to hurt them. (Even if it damages the Jesus, it’s easily replaced, at the humper’s cost). But deliberately killing a mature tree that’s taken centuries to grow – that’s evil.

          Excuse me, I have to go and hug a tree…

  11. Reblogged this on The Spanking Myth and commented:
    This crazy!

    Who would think that in 2014 America that a de facto blasphemy law would be upheld. Now a young boy, who acted in the moment is going to be charged and possibly face jail time. Really? First, does not the church understand that when they do this type of shit, they piss of the rest of us? Do they not realize that this is why we want to keep the church and state separate.

    This law needs struck down. If there was a crime, like vandalism or trespassing than charge those crimes. Even if they are stiffer, they are better than this made up bullshit. But, if you read the story, I think it is clear that no crimes are committed, just a boy have a great time.

    That is it! People need to really get a life.

  12. This is far from the first time a state has tried to put the crime of “desecration” on the books — and got slapped for it.

    Back in 2001 a Colorado man removed a bunch of roadside crosses which had been placed on public land by friends and relatives of the victims of fatal accidents. He was sick of looking at them, they were all over. The FFRF got involved when he was charged with “desecrating an object venerated by the public.” No way that should be a crime.

    The denouement was amusing. Not only was “desecration” ruled not a legitimate crime, but the roadside memorials got demoted from “venerated object” to “litter.”

    Fortunately for both the defendant AND the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization, “bad taste” isn’t against the law. That is one ugly statue.

    1. It is a crime in New Mexico, and I am sure some citizens would report the removal of a cross if they saw it.

      I recently heard of a suicide attempt, possibly successful, by means of driving over a cliff. I wonder if Christians (Catholics?) would put a cross up or do their rules say the poor sod is not eligible for one. I find their attitude toward suicide repulsive.

      1. It’s a crime here in Colorado to put those things up. (I’m not surprised, given the retrograde nature of much New Mexico legislation, that they would insist on such stupidity being on the books).

    2. We have those bloody things by the roadside (well, not actually, bloody, just painted white) here in NZ and I’m sad to say they are actually encouraged by the police. They seem to think the distraction will make people drive more carefully. Personally, being a cantankerous bastard, when I see one of those I make a point of going a bit harder for a few seconds…
      I guess the phony sentiment just puts me off.

        1. They’re usually up the bank or even attached to power poles, I want my car to be in working order afterwards…

          I have thought of taking the mickey by going out and erecting little white crosses to commemorate hedgehogs, possums and other roadkill, but (a) I’m too lazy (b) there are just too many and (c) it might start a trend…

            1. Yeah, probably. Then some busybody would put a cross up for me. Oh the irony.
              (Being as many of the rellies are Cook Island Christians it would probably have “Gone to Jesus” written on it.)

              1. Ha ha! My rellies in NZ are mostly religious too. I honestly don’t know what happened to me sometimes.

      1. In the US (and iirc in the Colorado case in question) the people who put up roadside memorials to their loved ones seldom stop at a cross. Imagine the addition of photographs, stuffed animals, pinwheels, plastic flowers, religious statues, etc. It can get very out of hand.

        It can also be a hazard, if only because of the numerous trips made to the side of the dangerous road in order to update the paraphernalia.

        I realize that there is no one ‘right’ way to grieve and different people find different things comforting — but I still find it hard to understand who would want to memorialize the spot where someone they loved died in a bloody car crash. I would think people would want to forget that part, and I’d understand it better if a parent, spouse, or other relation had problems driving by that particular area. Going there deliberately and decorating it seems gruesome.

        1. My feelings exactly.

          I think it probably originated ‘naturally’ in Catholic countries e.g. in South America where there are, I believe, little shrines to the Virgin Mary everywhere. (By ‘naturally’ i mean, as a genuine expression of feeling on the relatives’ part and not some contrived gesture as in this country). That doesn’t mean we should adopt it or encourage it.

    1. I would love to see that as the defense: Protestants are against idolatry, therefore, this can’t have been desecration. Looking at Love INC’s website, though, they claim to non-denominational (bringing together “mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox churches to minister as the full Body of Christ to people in need”). I guess you could argue that, since they have no defined doctrines, there is no standard for determining what is a venerated object.

      On a side note I find it annoying that if I search google for “love in the name of christ” (in quotes) and protestant (not in quotes), it treats protestant as synonymous with christian in the results. (You have to put protestant separately in quotes, too.)

      1. Their policy towards people leaving candles and incense at the statue or a chapel in their building with images or icons might be a good guide for whether or not they take veneration of objects seriously. Just because they’re an ecumenical organization with support from sects that venerate objects doesn’t necessarily mean this particular statue is a venerated object.

      1. Ha! Or making love to a watermelon with Christ’s face on it. I think Cormac McCarthy forgot to mention that about the violated fruit of Christ. cf. Suttree

  13. A criminal act for crying out loud?! This is not just shocking, it’s chilling! Has America become as bad as Russia when it comes to religion? You will recall that the members of Pussy Riot were jailed for “praying” in a Russian Orthodox church to get rid of Putin.

    1. They are absolutely against idolatry, except when they are for it. Like Ratzinger’s retirement – he was called “brave” for stepping down, but if he hadn’t, he would have been called “brave” for choosing to stay.

  14. I think punishment for this is well deserved. Freedom of speech clearly differentiates between the freedom of speech and the moral and civic responsibility not to hurt other people, faiths and religions. How can such an act be condoned?

    1. Do you really want to advocate for a law that criminalizes people when someone else is offended.

      I’m offended at your remark – you need to go to jail!

    2. It is meaningless to “protect” speech that doesn’t offend anybody. To have freedom of speech means that people are allowed to say things that offend other people.

    3. “I think punishment for this is well deserved. Freedom of speech clearly differentiates between the freedom of speech and the moral and civic responsibility not to hurt other people, faiths and religions. How can such an act be condoned?”

      Hurt people? You, it seems, care more about protecting imaginary people than about hurting an actual 14 year- old boy by having him jailed for blasphemy. You really need to read up on what freedom of speech is.

      (I would also note that the pose of Jesus praying shows that Christians don’t really believe in the Trinity. If they did it would make no sense to make a statue of Jesus to praying to himself.)

    4. How can such an act be condoned?

      Legally. To begin with.

      And neither faith nor religion are ‘sacred’ — meaning ethically exempt from criticism. In fact, the common belief that they are or should be sacrosanct thus makes it a moral and civic responsibility to mock them.

      Also — what GBJames said. “Faith” and “religion” are concepts which entail conclusions; they don’t have tender, delicate feelings which can be hurt. On the contrary, they have dubious, implausible arguments which can be dismantled. That’s probably why the pious like to pretend it’s really the first one.

      “Don’t hit my hypothesis: it’s too weak to defend itself!”

      1. You are welcome to your opinions. I personally believe in constructive criticism, that helps people/institutions and even faiths to improve and adapt to changing time. Again the important word here is “constructive”. Crude and offensive behavior such as this smacks of poor taste and hurts the people of all faiths. Also I am no Christian but I found that to be very offensive. We cannot live in a society which condones all behaviors under the guise of “freedom of speech”! I don’t believe in “hitting” anything. I am open minded and respect all faiths and people. Thank you for sharing your opinions.

        1. “I personally believe in constructive criticism, that helps people/institutions and even faiths to improve and adapt to changing time.”

          Right, so tell us what part about jailing a 14 year-old boy for blasphemy would be “constructive criticism” of his actions?

        2. “I am open minded and respect all faiths and people.”

          I don’t think so. I seems you don’t respect the people who want to express themselves in ways you find offensive.

          Someone pointed to this cartoon the other day. It applies. (Don’t worry, it isn’t a cartoon of Mohammed.)

          1. That about covers it. I’d add to that list, suppose a devout Muslim decides he is offended because my wife isn’t sufficiently covered and I’m walking around with her in public. This is “hurtful” speech. It seems this Pennsylvania law indicates we should surmise that this is the case and not offend the poor guy’s sensibilities. It seems there’s an issue somewhere here for the FFRF to look into.

        3. “We cannot live in a society which condones all behaviors under the guise of “freedom of speech”!

          That is hyperbolic to the extent that it is a non sequitur. We do not live in a society which condones all behaviors under the guise of freedom of speech, no one here has suggested it, and I think you would be hard pressed to find more than a rare token outlier free speech advocate that would condone that. The really obvious reason why, which you and others so worried about being offended don’t seem to get, is that speech and actions are quite different things. Whether or not the former “hurts” you in some way is up to you and the “hurt” is limited to emotions, while with the latter you can not affect whether or not you get hurt and the hurt is physical damage.

          So, you found the picture offensive? And that is such an assault on you that the boy should be punished for it? You really think that?

          1. The actions of the boy or person were not “spoken”, his “actions” were rude and offensive and frankly tasteless and crass.

            We all have to take responsibility of our actions. As grown ups we do that everyday. But the understanding that our actions can have consequences needs to be inculcated during our childhood. I am not sure what you mean by “the boy should be punished”? I am not suggesting life long punishment. I am not suggesting we applaud his actions either? I am not a lawyer, but from what I understand, Juveniles are not charged with felonies except in the most serious crimes. Which this is not. In most cases such people are kept under probation, Basically, instead of going to juvenile prison, the Court may give an opportunity to go through treatment, do some community service, and get some additional counselling.

            This is my opinion and just like you I have a right to holding my opinions. Thank you for your feedback.

            1. You are aware that “free speech” is shorthand for “freedom of expression”. This includes much more than just audible speech.

              But I’m guessing that, no, you were not aware of this fact. So now that you are, can we move on? Rudeness/crassness/tasteless/offensive. Sure. So what? These things are not crimes.

              Nobody has a right to not be offended.

            2. “The actions of the boy or person were not “spoken”, his “actions” were rude and offensive and frankly tasteless and crass.”

              Neha Jain, what would you say to someone who sincerely says that photographs of woman with their hair uncovered are offensive? That is a real thing, and is actually the case with millions of Muslims who find a woman’s uncovered hair to be offensive, yet you have a picture of yourself with your hair uncovered right here in this very forum. By your own argument you should be punished because it’s offensive to some people and it’s an action, not words. Tell us why your action is innocent and should not be punished yet the boy’s actions should?

            3. Tasteless and crass?

              Absolutely. But then again, I think South Park is tasteless and crass, and I still laugh at it.

              Disrespectful of other people’s ideas?

              Of course. Too bad.

              Tasteless, crass, and disrespectful acts, are the miner’s canaries of freedom. Long may they endure.

            4. You have a right to your opinion? Do you feel that because I am arguing with you that I am somehow infringing upon your right to have or express an opinion?

              In light of the opinions you have expressed here that doesn’t surprise me at all. That fits a very common pattern. It does make me feel sad and a bit fatalistic though. No, I, nor anyone else here, have infringed upon your right to have and express any opinions. Nor would we, just the opposite actually. Any such perception is caused soley by your own mind, not legitimately by anything anyone here has written.

        4. Neha Jain,

          The fact that you found it offensive is constitutionally irrelevant. Full Stop.

          It’s great that you value constructive criticism, but the constitution is not concerned with such a subset of free speech. Setting aside your straw man of “all behaviors”, the issue here isn’t the “guise” of freedom of speech, but actual freedom of speech, as in the right to speak freely without any fear of legal ramifications due to someone finding your speech offensive or objectionable . To restrict freedom of speech to apply only to speech that isn’t offensive or hurtful is to completely miss the point of freedom of speech.

          You may respect any faiths and people you choose to, though I suspect your respect is not quite so hyperbolic and unbounded as you present it (somewhere between the Christians and bug nut crazy UFO worshiping cults and beyond, I suspect there’s a point at which your respect at least tapers off), but I do not, nor should I be required to do so.

          I am free to criticize or mock any faith. I may demonstrate myself to be an insensitive jerk in how I go about doing so, but that’s my right; thank you, James Madison.

        5. I think you’re missing part of our defense of “the freedom to offend” because you’re probably working under the common cultural assumption that faith is a virtue and religion an expression of an individual’s “identity” — and we are not. You shouldn’t be either, if you take religious claims seriously and believe that people of faith also take them seriously. They believe that God exists. They believe in a spiritual reality. They believe the stories and promises and moral lessons of their holy books not because they are well-evidenced and reasonable and make sense by the common standards of the world — but because they are revealed insights from a Higher Power and CANNOT be questioned, criticized, mocked, or ridiculed.

          These are fact claims, not values, virtues, preferences, tastes, choices, or lifestyles and we respect them by opening them up to the same sorts of analysis and, yes, insults we do for any other fact claim supported by such a closed, self-confirming, divisive, and pompous methodology. “Faith” is dogma and tribalism which concerns the very meaning of life and existence; it’s not a harmless little personal virtue.

          “Faith” is in power in the world; it’s not an underdog. It’s an immunizing strategy which protects grandiose but poorly supported beliefs from being treated fairly and rationally in the marketplace of ideas, stigmatizing critics as “intolerant” while simultaneously sneering at the arrogance and foolishness of rejecting “higher things.”

          It needs to be taken down a peg in it’s over-inflated, undeserved estimation.

          Thank you for listening to my opinion; I hope that one day you’ll share it.

    5. I am so sorry that everyone on this thread, including you, has completely misunderstood the situation.

      Clearly the young man in the picture is a very devout Christian indeed. Can’t you see he is suffering from disabilitating physical or psychological pain? That godgiven pain clouds his senses, making the statue appear to him as no mere representation but as Jesus himself.

      The young man leans on the statue of Jesus Christ to relieve his PAIN and in the hope that Jesus will CURE him.

      It is very confusing to me what everyone is insinuating here. A compromising position? A lewd act? A true believer could never have such wide-reaching imagination.

      I am very moved by this image and would like it to be preserved forever as an example of how the young generation puts their faith back in Jesus Christ.

      Thank you for respecting my opinion.

    6. Freedom of speech clearly differentiates between the freedom of speech and the moral and civic responsibility not to hurt other people, faiths and religions.

      Oh-oh. Infinite regression!


    7. Also:

      If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favor of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin. If you’re in favor of freedom of speech, that means you’re in favor of freedom of speech precisely for views you despise.
      — Noam Chomsky, Manufacturing Consent: Noam Chomsky and the Media (1992)


  15. What? When the shoes on the other foot they’re motivated to take action? Surprise, not. Hypocrisy is, after all, a specialty of god-botherers.

    Jesus’s earthbound reps having sexual relations with children, coercively? No biggie, stay loyal to the church.

    Person pretends to be blown by an apparently willing Jesus? Send that person to Jail.

    In my opinion this is a situation where being rude / mocking / cursing is an appropriate response, as I mentioned in another thread recently.

    1. Well…to continue from the other thread…Jesus Fucking…

      In all seriousness, you raise a very good point. If this were a priest posing like this in front of children, they’d say it’s a temporary fall from grace and admonish him to pray fervently on the issue.

      1. Apparently, somebody else thought it was brilliant too, and started making reproductions. I cannot find anything though, outside of the fact they were made by “Hartland Plastics” in the 50s-60s. There was an “” listing for a reproduction for about $25 – gone now. My kingdom for a 3D printer.

  16. Having a law punishing the desecration of venerated objects is tantamount to admission that God doesn’t really exist, no? I mean a God should be able to mete out the punishment himself with no help from mere mortals.

    1. This sounds reasonable — so you know the religious have already thought of reasons it doesn’t apply.

      I think they imagine God as being like a playground monitor who is hiding behind the bushes to see how the kids really behave when they’re not sure where the authority is. Do they still obey the rules and defend the importance and wonderfulness of the playground monitor? Or do they scoff and insist that they can handle things themselves, they don’t need no stinkin’ guardian?

      The kids who punch the kids who make fun of the adult hiding in the bushes get rewarded. That’s the point — to allow the good children to demonstrate their sense of honor and respect, their commitment to virtue/God (same thing.)

      1. It may very well demonstrate their sense of honor and respect. But it doesn’t demonstrate their faith in God’s ability or willingness to act. I think it even demonstrates doubt that any divine justice in the after-life will happen at all. Of course they may claim otherwise but actions speak louder than words.

    2. Their god must be puny and powerless if he has to rely on mere mortals to defend his kingdom. Maybe if they would just stop coddling him he would finally pull himself up by his bootstraps, step forward and speak for himself.

  17. It was laws against “desecration of sacred object” that banned flag-burning. In 1989, the Supreme Court overthrew this in Texas vs. Johnson on the grounds that it was free speech.

    The Pennsylvania law defines desecration mainly as defacing damaging or mistreating in a way that “the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons…”

    Now I can see prosecution for any permanent physical damage, but if the latter hasn’t happened, I’m inclined to say it’s as much free speech as flag burning.

    1. I touched on this above, and agree, but it’s more an “as applied” challenge to the statute than a facial challenge, for the mere reason that it’s possible to think of (in rather ridiculous scenarios) cases where the “desecration” might not be speech at all. In such a weird case, it would be constitutional to punish even a non-damaging event.

    1. There have been occasions when minors have been charged with making/possessing child porn when taking pictures of themselves. Good thing he didn’t expose himself, being a minor.

      1. That always struck me as the most obscene perversion of justice and morality possible. Just who is the law supposed to be ‘protecting’ the minor from? Him/herself? By threatening to put them in jail? Yeah, that’ll really preserve their childlike innocence, won’t it?

  18. In this country if you blasphemed the image of Darwin would you get punishment or a medal? At the very least you would not be subject to an evolutionist jihad.

    1. It’s not possible to “blaspheme” Darwin, of course. I suppose somebody could “insult” a statue by putting bunny ears on it or something — but the first culprits I’d look at would be biology students.

  19. This whole conversation is making me feel awkward about last Christmas’s baby Jesus simulated rim job in front of Our Lady of Ecstatic Utterances. Cops got there before I got to the sheep.

    I kid. But I’m a sucker for transgressive acts. As long was no one was actually harmed–delicate sensibilities notwithstanding–a firmly worded warning to keep off other people’s lawns is the most that could be warranted.

  20. On a related note, more people of faith should exercise their freedom to not be offended by stupid stuff. If you are all correct, you can snub the rest of us from your perches in heaven. Until then, grow a spine.

  21. to venerate:
    to regard with reverential respect or with admiring deference 2: to honor (as an icon or a relic) with a ritual act of devotion

    hmmm. Seems that if this is a *real* venerated object, then these Christians are screwed since they are sinning in the big ten commandments: “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. 5 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.

    if one venerates a statue of JC, then one is blowing off the second of the commandments. Which would show that the plaques of the 10C aren’t followed and have no place in a public building, much less a church where they aren’t followed either.

    1. That’s a little confusing, the devout god botherers get love for 1000 generations, but the false god botherers only get hate for 3 to 4 generations. That implies god’s love is 250% to 333% more potent than his hate, which means you only need one devout god botherer per 250 ancestors for the love to outweigh the hate.

      Somehow it doesn’t seem like this god thought out his commandments very well before issuing them.

      I’m also confused as to why anyone would want to have a relationship with such an insecure being that despite being omnipotent feels threatened enough by false idols to feel jealousy. Unless they are too scared to say no, but that isn’t a good foundation for a relationship that is supposed to be based on love.

  22. “Outrage the sensibilities of someone like to discover the action”?


    1) How do you know what the sensibilities of other people are and who is likely to discover it? If he posted it to his friends on FB, he has no way of knowing if it gets shared and who is likely to discover it.

    2) When the hell did violating someone’s sensibilities become a crime? I’d argue America was founded primarily on the right to do just that.

  23. The Pennsylvania law is unconstitutional. Section 1 of the 14th Amendment (excerpted):

    “…No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States…”

    The 1st Amendment’s Free Speech clause is the immunity (in this case) that Pennsylvania is not free to tread on.

    Let’s start or contribute to this kid’s defense fund.

  24. You folks are under the mistaken impression that “venerated objects” refers specifically to objects of a religious nature. It does not, according to the law in question. The specifics are discussed here:

    The law would apply equally well whether the statue in question was of Jesus or Barack Obama.

    Note that the law cites specific examples of “venerated objects” — tombs, monuments, and the like. The clear implication is that it’s NOT sufficient to say “I hereby declare this copy of Richard Dawkins’ book to be venerated. It is venerated to me!” While the law is somewhat vague and does not provide exhaustive criteria for this veneration, the clear implication is that it’s not sufficient for any particular invididual to hold that object in high esteem.

    1. Seems to me you miss the point.

      “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.”

      It doesn’t matter if it is religious or not. This law violates the constitution because free expression includes the right to be offensive.

      Nobody has a right to not be offended.

  25. You might wnt to read up on the law in question. This action is NOT protected by “free speech.”

    Additionally, the law in question is not specifically about religious objects. The same offense would apply if the statue in question were a figure of Barack Obama.

    Note that this law provides specific examples of “venerated objects” — monuments, tombs, etc. The clear implication is that it is NOT sufficient for any one person to declare “I consider this book by Christopher Hitchens to be venerated! It therefore deserves the same degree of protection.” Doesn’t work that way, folks.

  26. What he did was against the law, just like it would have been against the law for him to denigrate the Liberty Bell. Read what is written above:

    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.”

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