Schmidt Law Services Blog

Lisa Schmidt

Foolish Teen Could Get 2 Years for Humping Jesus Statue

Teen gets 2 years for humping Jesus statue

Image Source: Bedford County Free Press/Facebook

Teens do strange things to get attention sometimes. But in a recent Pennsylvania case, one 14 year old’s antics landed him 2 years in juvenile detention. What did he do? He posted a picture on Facebook of himself simulating oral sex with a kneeling Jesus statue.

Bedford County, Pennsylvania charged the teen (whose identity remains private) with “desecration of a venerated object.” The law prohibits:

“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 penalty for breaking the law is up to two years in a state prison. The law is similar to laws in other states that ban the burning or destruction of flags – usually the Stars and Stripes along with the state flag. But Pennsylvania’s law is much broader, allowing charging officials and judges to decide what physical treatment is “outrageous” or offensive.

But should a law designed to protect important national icons be applied to religious symbols? Wayne Besen, Executive Director for Truth Wins Out, a civil rights advocacy agency, thinks not:

“Nowhere does it say that religious people reserve the right never to be offended by anything. This child has not committed a criminal act, and Truth Wins Out strongly believes that the family court with jurisdiction is abusing its power by prosecuting a kid and potentially marking him as a criminal simply because somebody was offended.”

To be clear, the courts have not yet weighed in on the case. But attaching such an aggressive charge to such a simple, if foolish, act, sends a message to teens and adults in Bedford County: If you disrespect the church you’ll face serious legal consequences. This is just the type of state favoritism of religion that the First Amendment intended to prevent. That is, unless Bedford County is equally prepared to prosecute lewd photos taken with local menorahs, Islamic icons, and satanist statues. The only way Bedford can justify labeling a statue of Jesus as a “venerated object” is if it is also willing to extend that label to all religious icons.

This case is still in its earliest stages. It’s still possible that a judge will see this charge for what it is and restrict the teen’s punishment to something more fitting the crime – like a disorderly person misdemeanor. But the enforcement of such “blasphemy” laws raises concerns for religious minorities and irreverent teens alike.

Schmidt Law Services focuses on the unique issues that face juvenile respondents, including collateral consequences on student aid and enlistment options. If you know a teen who is facing delinquency charges, have their parents contact Schmidt Law Services today for a free consultation.

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