“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”
– Salman Rushdie
As many of you have already recently read, a Pennsylvania teenager is facing up to two years behind bars for taking a prank photo of himself receiving a simulated blowjob from a Jesus statue.
The young man is charged under an obscure 1972 law with “Desecration of a Venerated Object”, which is defined 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.”
Is this act silly, immature, disrespectful, tasteless? Many would argue so. But are any of those things unlawful?
One could argue that this was trespassing and/or vandalism, though no property was harmed. But, as JT Eberhard noted on his Patheos blog:
So let’s say an adult (subject to harsher penalties than minors) elected to spray paint “Jesus loves dicks” on the side of this boy’s school. That guy, at most (and the “at most” comes in to play for people with previous criminal records, which this boy doesn’t have), would serve a year in jail – and that’s assuming the cost of having the wall re-painted exceeds $150, otherwise the penalty would be less.
But a 14 year-old does something stupid that causes literally zero property damage and he could face two years in juvenile jail because it’s a “venerated object”? That’s insane. That’s really ludicrous.
The fact of the matter is that this has nothing to do with property and everything to do with privileged religious sensibilities. A quick Google Image Search for “statue humping” or any similar query will show just how little anyone cares when it doesn’t happen to be a religious effigy.
Whatever you think personally of this kid’s antic, the charge and the unfitting punishment he faces is antithetical to the Establishment Clause and will set a highly theocratic precedent. We cannot accept or tolerate religious veneration written into law.
So what to do? Here’s one suggestion:
As both an act of protest and a show of solidarity, join in on the antic!
We are encouraging you to take your own irreverent and simulated sex photos with religious statues and other “venerated objects” and effigies, and post them to social media using the hashtag #OccupyEffigies.
Of course we would advise you not to break any laws in doing so, and vandalism of any kind should not be condoned. Remember, this is about speech.