A 14-year-old Pennsylvania teenager is facing two years behind bars. His crime? Offending the sensibilities of a vengeful, power-hungry district attorney.
The teen was charged with desecration of a venerated object after county authorities discovered pictures of him placing his crotch near the mouth of a statue of Jesus in prayer on Facebook. The allegedly victimized Jesus statue sits in the front yard of Love In the Name of Christ, a Christian organization in teen’s hometown of Everett, Pa.
The pose, meant to simulate oral sex is just the sort of prank you’d expect from a 14-year-old; crass, obnoxious, irreverent, offensive and – let’s be honest – a little funny.
Of course there are some people who don’t see any humor in the teen’s prank. Unfortunately for the kid, Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins is among them. Mr. Higgins is leading the charge to convict the teenager of the desecration charge, a second-degree misdemeanor with a punishment of up to two years in jail
As a result of the absolutely idiotic Pennsylvania desecration law, the boy actually faces a stiffer penalty for gesturing near the statue than he would have for stealing or destroying the figure.
Apparently, Mr. Higgins is unaware that the statue isn’t actually Christ, or even a revered piece of art depicting Jesus. It’s just a painted piece of concrete mass produced from a mold and sold at flea markets, garden shops and home improvement stores across America. In fact, a slightly smaller version of the statue is available on Sears’ website for $225.
The teen’s act of simulating a sex act with the statue does no more to harm Christian values than someone burning the flag does to damage American principles and liberties. Just as it’s not the flag that protects Americans’ freedoms, it’s not some poorly painted garden statue that offers Christians the promise of eternal salvation.
While molesting a statue or burning a flag does nothing to injure Christian or American values, Mr. Higgins’ prosecution of the teen does, however, harm both.
Sara Rose, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Pennsylvania, told the Altoona Mirror, “There are some serious First Amendment issues with this [desecration of a venerated object] statute” if merely gesturing next to an image is enough to be charged. Further, according to Ms. Rose, a special law protecting religious items, even the holiest of concrete lawn ornaments, from being the victim of an act free speech is hard to justify.
All Americans should be horrified that Mr. Higgins honestly believes that a historically inaccurate piece of concrete is more important than the First Amendment. Mr. Higgins’ behavior brings to mind the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin who had members of the band Pussy Riot jailed after supposedly desecrating a church by playing a punk rock song in the building.
Christians should be doubly horrified that Mr. Higgins is invoking a law that mimics Sharia Law, the Muslim legal system often criticized by Christians. Just as Sharia law creates harsher laws for actions deemed as offensive to Islam, Mr. Higgins is contorting an already bad law to create harsher penalties for actions considered offensive to Christianity.
Mr. Higgins’ boorish behavior has landed him in hot water on Internet comment boards and on social media, leading him to lash out on his own Facebook page. “I guess I should take solace in the fact that the liberals are mad at me – again,” Higgins wrote. “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.”
But it’s not just the liberals who are upset with Mr. Higgins. It’s also conservatives like me who respect the First Amendment, as well as anyone with the sense to understand the difference between a teenage prank and an actual crime.
A district attorney is supposed to “protect the rights and safety of the people,” according to the National District Attorneys Association. Sadly, the rights of the people seem to be the least of Mr. Higgins’ concern – or at least the rights of people too young to vote for him when he runs for reelection next year, anyway.
The holier-than-though DA comes across like merciless lunatic on a religious vendetta that would make the Muslim extremists who threaten to murder cartoonists who scribble drawings of Muhammad proud.
Not only is Mr. Higgins hell-bent on ruining a 14-year-old’s life by sending him to jail for a harmless prank, he is behaving like a grade-A hypocrite in the process.
On August 15, Mr. Higgins posted a YouTube clip on his personal Twitter account of radio legend Howard Stern interviewing porn star Nick Manning. The video features audio clips of Mr. Manning loudly performing with his female co-stars, calling them “nasty pigs” and ordering them to engage in sex acts that many American would find revolting.
Mr. Higgins believes that when a high school freshman puts his pants near a concrete statue, it offends “the sensibilities and morals of OUR community.” Yet when an elected official and community leader tweets audio clips of hardcore pornography that many would find both wildly offensive and degrading to women, the values and dignity of the community remain intact – at least in Mr. Higgins’ warped brain.
Perhaps if Mr. Higgins wanted to charge the teen with trespassing or public lewdness, he might have a case. In reality, though, the teen’s real crime was having the same tactless sense of humor shared by most 14-year-old boys. For that, the boy deserves no punishment. Mr. Higgins, on the other hand, deserve to be held accountable for abusing his power to carry out a silly crusade and turning the county that he serves into a national laughingstock – offenses that should be punishable by being removed from office, either immediately or at the next election.
Drew Johnson is a Washington Times columnist and editorial writer.