(Ed Uthman / Flickr)

(Ed Uthman / Flickr)

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

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CHICAGO — Truth Wins Out today announced a press conference and demonstration this Saturday in Bedford, Pennsylvania, to be held jointly with American Atheists and Pennsylvania Nonbelievers. A fourteen year-old child is being tried in juvenile court on October 3 in Bedford for “desecrating” a Jesus statue, after pictures were posted on Facebook of the teen simulating a sex act with the statue. The teen did no damage and the religious organization who owns the statue does not wish to prosecute, but a rogue district attorney has chosen to do so, under a questionable interpretation of a Pennsylvania law which bans “desecration” of religious objects. The organizations will come together to speak out for freedom of speech and freedom of religion for all, including minor children who pull pranks that may offend some religious believers.

In attendance will be Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen, American Atheists President David Silverman and Pennsylvania Nonbelievers President Brian Fields.

“This is a blasphemy law, pure and simple, and it is in clear violation of the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “If the kid had destroyed or damaged the statue, he would clearly deserve to face consequences. But taking a picture that offends somebody’s religious sensibilities? This is not Russia or Iran; this is the United States, where we’re supposed to value freedom of speech. Pennsylvania should be ashamed of itself for so clearly violating this kid’s constitutional rights.”

American Atheists President David Silverman added:

“Religious freedom includes the ability to disparage religion. Any law that protects religion from defamation infringes on the fundamental rights granted by our constitution. Simply saying ‘I am an atheist’ is seen as attacking religion by some, and drawing Muhammad can bring a death sentence, so our freedom to criticize religion is under constant attack. For this reason, any nonviolent and nondestructive expression critical of religion, including satire and biting criticism, must be preserved in order to maintain our freedom.”

Bedford County District Attorney Bill Higgins decided to prosecute the child under a Pennsylvania law which states that “desecration” includes “physically mistreating [objects] in a way that the actor knows will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.” Higgins maintains that he is simply a district who wishes to uphold Pennsylvania law, but his own statements on the case undermine that claim. In an interview with local media, Higgins stated that “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.” By making this statement, it is clear that Higgins is more of a frustrated right-wing radio host than a responsible district attorney. Higgins wishes to retaliate against the talking points he recited above, and he intends to do that by making an example of a fourteen year-old child. 

“It’s absurd that in this country that the District Attorney of Bedford County is treating a child’s free speech like a crime,” said Pennsylvania Nonbelievers President Brian Fields. “While people may not like the image, it is still speech, and should be protected like any other speech. We wonder if the District Attorney would fight so hard to protect the feelings of believers of other religions, or of those who do not believe at all.”

The youth’s actions may have been in poor taste, but religious freedom does not include the right never to be offended by a teenager’s prank. Moreover, prosecution of this action is a clear violation of the teen’s own First Amendment rights.

All those, religious or otherwise, who value their own rights to stand up, speak out, and exercise their own freedom to worship or not worship as they see fit are invited to join us on Saturday as we take a bold stand for the First Amendment.

The event is to be held this Saturday, September 27, 2014 at noon on public space at the center of Bedford, Pennsylvania, near the courthouse where the youth is to be tried. The courthouse is located at 200 South Juliana Street. If you are interested in attending, please e-mail Evan Hurst at evan@truthwinsout.org for more information. If you are not able to attend, please consider supporting this vital work to stand up for our constitutional rights by making a donation.

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Truth Wins Out (TWO) is a non-profit organization that works to demolish the very foundation of anti-gay prejudice. Our philosophy is simple: We attack the underpinnings of homophobia by debunking harmful lies, discrediting hateful myths, and countering anti-gay organizations. By chipping away at the underlying ignorance that fuels anti-LGBT attitudes, we can ultimately win our fight for fairness and achieve full equality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people worldwide.

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