A 14-year old boy took a photograph of himself with a Jesus statue in a public area that, to put it as gently as I can, suggests an extremely friendly relationship between Jesus and him. It seems like he took the phrase ‘Jesus loves me’ a little too literally.
And as is the habit with kids these days, a photo was taken and posted on the internet and now he is facing the wrath of the authorities. He is being charged with ‘desecration’ and faces a maximum sentence of two years. The 1972 law in question in Pennsylvania can be seen here and the relevant part reads:
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; (2) intentionally desecrates any other object of veneration by the public or a substantial segment thereof in any public place.
So what does desecration means? The law defines it:
“Desecrate.” 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 should be noted that the statue was not vandalized in any way. The offence was purely one of creating a gag photo. Since no one was hurt and no property was damaged, the authorities are likely going to go with the catch-all phrase “or otherwise physically mistreating”.
There are two issues here. The first is the obvious one of why authorities would try to ruin the life of a teen for pulling the kind of prank that teens have been thinking clever and doing since time immemorial. The second is whether actions that are otherwise legal but merely upset people’s sensibilities should be grounds for prosecution. The answer should be no. Ordinary vandalism laws should be sufficient. In this case for example, if he had merely stood next to the statue with his arm around it, he would not have been charged with anything.