When making gag photos becomes a crime

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.


  1. says

    An inanimate object that is left in the same condition it was in before and after an action can not be thought of as being desecrated. This law the teenager is being charged with is a blasphemy law without using the word. Assembly laws have been struck down in the USA. Not using the word does not mean blasphemy is not the intention of this law, it’s a disguise of the word.

  2. Jonny Vincent says

    If a psychiatrist (or anyone) can explain to me how people who imagine non-sensory (senseless) pain in their imaginations can be anything but psychotic (detached from the reality where no one can hurt them inside their mind but them), I would like rather like to hear that argument made.

    Matthew 18 (KJV)
    4 Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
    5 And whoso shall receive one such little child in my name receiveth me.

    But the historical record shows Christian soldiers are more likely to commit genocide and rape than turn the other cheek or forgive. Christians preach mercy whilst simultaneously commuting genocide or molesting choir boys. That’s the Luke 14:33 Christian Confidence Trick.

    They tell you what to do. They do the opposite.

  3. smrnda says

    You would think that turning the other cheek when it comes to the symbolic insult to their deity would be the “Christian” thing.

  4. says

    It’s funny how those who say “idolatry is a sin” are so eager to practice idolatry.

    This is very much like the Lindsey Stone incident of 2012. The far right in the US have learnt well from the extremist muslims around the world. If you have enough support behind you and a gutless government willing to stand by, falsely claiming that you’re “offended” can be used to threate, intimidate and silence those who don’t obey or capitulate, or use violence if they won’t.

  5. wilsim says

    In my younger and more sexist days I once polished the breasts, and only the breasts, of a tarnished bronze mermaid statue in someone’s front yard.
    Glad I wasn’t caught. I didn’t know them.
    Also glad I live in Oregon because even if I had been I would have likely only been charged with vandalism and trespassing and not a trumped up blasphemy charge with no victim.

  6. Crimson Clupeidae says

    I hope FFRF, ACLU or one of the other ‘big guns’ of the legal community step up to defend this kid and make these stupid laws go away. I’ll contribute to the defense fund (I already donate regularly to both FFRF and ACLU).

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