Blasphemy laws are inefficacious because they seek to make the one thing illegal that cannot be controlled by the law or by sheer authority, namely the human will. If people want to express themselves and their opinions, they will almost always find a way to do so.
In the recent news a Pennsylvania teenager, being teenagery, did the awfully silly thing of posing with a Jesus statue and simulated oral sex with it.
The pictures found their way to the Interwebs and people saw the photos and became outraged. Unfortunately, there also happens to be an archaic anti-blasphemy styled law in the Pennsylvania law books which states that desecration of sacred objects in the state of Pennsylvania has a maximum punishment of up to two years in prison.
As the Washington Times reports:
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.
Snicker. It said, "Stiffer" penalty.
You see, it's good to have a sense of humor. One which, apparently, the state District Attorney, Bill Higgins, lacks as he is seeking to charge the boy with a second-degree misdemeanor charge. On his Facebook page, Bill Higgins defended his prosecuting the teen by stating:
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.
It's not so much the severity of the nonsensical charge that stings, since with a bit of community service it could be expunged from the teen's record anyway, but the attitude of those willing to sacrifice this kid as a scapegoat.
Christians are obviously mad at the recent widespread, secular, irreligious attitudes and are lashing out in infantile temper tantrums. A kid offended us by making a lewd gesture in front of Jesus! *Gasp. Quick, let's all trample his First Amendment rights because we were able to dig up an archaic law that's specifically designed to ignore his constitutional rights, that'll teach him!
But the question I have is, what the fuck man?
Why are we prosecuting a kid for doing absolutely nothing wrong excepted, perhaps, offending the sensibilities of some tight asses in Pennsylvania?
Drew Johnson, in a scathing opinion piece "The first amendment on trial," writes that
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.
Indeed, I felt the same way and wrote a rather concerned email to Mr. Higgins at his work email address. He politely responded.
I do not wish to show the full email as this is an ongoing case. I feel bad that Mr. Higgins and his family have received death threats and I said as much in my email reply.
Mr. Higgins reassures me that the kid will get off with a slap on the wrists, without having to serve any jail time, and maybe he'll do a bit of community service to boot. But something Higgins said in the letter got under my skin. I mean, it deeply bothered me.
In his letter to me, he reassured me that he was "very sympathetic to young people and their occasional lack of good judgement."
So that's why we're trying this teenager as a criminal?
For a non-crime no less?
So, that's the total amount of sympathy the entire state of Pennsylvania could muster for hyperactive teen who acted out in bad taste? Trample his First Amendment rights?
Doesn't it bother you that the real crime here appears to be the suspiciously religious desire to have people punished for blasphemy in a country which protects their freedom of speech and expression? I sure as hell bothers me.
Here is my reply to Mr. Higgins in full:
Dear Mr. Higgins,
Thanks for your response. I meant no ill will, as my father was a defense attorney for 20 odd some years as is one of my good friends.
That said, there are certain laws in certain states that are archaic in the extreme. In my home state of Montana there is a law still on the books that states that no female shall be unescorted after nine pm on a Sunday evening.
Needless to say, I see women up past nine pm on Sundays all of the time!
It's shocking, I know. Like you, I too am sympathetic, in this case toward women, for their lack of good judgement.
Actually, I am no woman's keeper, I was just making a point that both laws are rather archaic and quite inefficacious. They also seem to impose themselves on the rights of the individual for no valid or logical reason I can discern.
Is it immoral to pose in a provocative fashion? How about with inanimate objects? A tree? A rock? A statue?
If Miley Cyrus can get away with twerking on national television, I don't see how a mere simulation of a lewd act can constitute a real crime. Especially when there were no other people involved in the act except for the young man. So the offense is against other people's sensibilities?
If people's sensibilities were offended, so be it. But that's all they are allowed. The offense.
Demanding any punishment beyond a public apology is overstepping their moral authority; and all based on an emotional response no less.
I can only roll my eyes and hope these people may get offended more often so that they might one day evolve a thicker skin and a sense of humor.
I am sorry for you and your family having received death threats. That should never happen. But you know how people get when their sensibilities are offended, they become quite irrational.
At any rate, it's a shame you had to experience such irrationality yourself. Let's just hope it ends here with this case and doesn't continue any further than this.
I closed the letter with a quote from Robert G. Ingersoll which I will share with you all.
"If abuses are destroyed, man must destroy them. If slaves are freed, man must free them. If new truths are discovered, man must discover them. If the naked are clothed; if the hungry are fed; if labor is rewarded; if superstition is driven from the mind; if the defenseless are protected; and if the right finally triumphs, all must be the work of man. The grand victories of the future must be won by man, and by man alone."