Unlike in many countries, American law does not recognize blasphemy as a crime. People are free to criticize and even insult religion. While attacking religion through speech or in print may be considered uncouth and may spark vigorous counter-criticism, it isn't illegal.
Nevertheless, a district attorney in Bedford County, Pa., managed in 2014 to prosecute a kind of backdoor blasphemy case. District Attorney William Higgins sent state police to the home of a 14-year-old boy, had him arrested and charged him with "desecration of a sacred object" under a murky 1972 Pennsylvania law.
There's no doubt that the boy had done something foolish and crude. He posed in front of a statue of Jesus at a religious ministry in the town of Everett in a way that made it look as if a sex act were taking place. He then posted the photo on Facebook. Someone reported it to Higgins.
Officials at the ministry acknowledged that the boy's stunt was rude. But the statue was not damaged, so they forgave the teen and were ready to move on.
Higgins was not. He insisted on prosecuting the boy. Attorneys with Americans United wrote to Higgins and advised him to back off. The AU lawyers noted that while the young man's behavior was hardly laudable, the state law was of dubious constitutionality.
Higgins refused to listen to Americans United. The boy's parents, probably hoping to avoid seeing their son in a juvenile facility, agreed to a plea bargain. The young man had to perform 350 hours of community service and stay off of social media for six months. He was also subjected to a curfew and ordered to undergo substance-abuse counseling --even though there were no allegations that he had been abusing alcohol or drugs at the time of the incident.
That should have been the end of this unfortunate saga. But last month, Higgins' name resurfaced in the Pennsylvania media. He was arrested and charged with 31 misdemeanor accounts relating to abuse of his office.
State officials, who had conducted a multi-year investigation of Higgins, allege that he had agreed to drop drug charges against several women in exchange for sexual favors. Higgins immediately resigned his office.
Officials say Higgins' actions put the community at risk. In some cases, known drug dealers were allegedly set loose thanks to Higgins. In another case, women convicted of drug offenses were allegedly told by Higgins to avoid certain people because they were police informants. Outing the informants obviously...