Oh yeah, by the way, it’s OK to flip the bird at the preacher now.
That’s according to the Georgia Supreme Court, which decided this is OK back on Oct. 2. I meant to tell you sooner, but it kind of slipped my mind that you’re free to make obscene gestures at the minister during the service.
Lord knows how many opportunities you’ve missed since. At least four, I guess, unless you have to go to church on Sunday night and Wednesdays, too. That always made me want to flip off the preacher.
You might wonder why the state Supreme Court had to say this is OK, and the answer, of course, is that someone got arrested for it.
Never miss a local story.
And he challenged it, on his own: He represented himself, at the Supreme Court, and won. It’s too bad the court doesn’t rule right away, or he could have made an obscene gesture at the prosecutors on his way out.
According to court records, David Justin Freeman went to a service Aug. 3, 2014 in Hall County’s Flowery Branch 12 Stones Church, where Pastor Jason Berry asked teachers to stand so everyone could pray they had a good school year.
Freeman, a homeschooler, stood up in the back of the church, raised his middle finger and glared at Berry. Berry later testified that after he finished the prayer and concluded the service, Freeman ranted, “Don’t send your kids to the evil public schools. Don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids.”
It’s not clear what the public schools had hired Satan to do. Maybe an executive search firm recommended him for superintendent, or he got elected to the school board, or he won a contract for the heating and air installation and service.
Prosecutors alleged Freeman made so much noise the music director had to crank up the volume to drown him out.
Berry claimed Freeman’s conduct made him fear both for his safety and that of 250 others at the service. So a deputy sheriff charged Freeman with disorderly conduct.
This was a mistake right off, it turned out, because the deputy charged him under a state law that had been declared unconstitutionally overbroad in 2006.
So prosecutors got Freeman indicted under another state law that says: “A person commits the offense of disorderly conduct when such person … acts in a violent or tumultuous manner toward another person whereby such person is placed in reasonable fear of the safety of such person’s life, limb, or health.”
Those of you who have flipped off people already may see the discrepancy here, but wait for it.
So, prosecutors had to admit that Freeman wasn’t “violent,” but they claimed he was “tumultuous.” And after what must have been the bird-flipping trial of the century, a jury found him guilty, and he got 12 months’ probation and a $270 fine.
He challenged the law as unconstitutionally broad, just like the other one, claiming it was too vague because it didn’t define “tumultuous.” But the justices decided that so far, even people “of ordinary intelligence” can look “tumultuous” up in the dictionary. If they can spell it.
But the court still sided with Freeman, because all he did was flip the bird and rant about the public schools, and if we jailed everyone who did that, we wouldn’t have room for all the murderers.
The court decided Freeman’s obscene gesture did not place Berry “in reasonable fear” of his “life, limb, or health.”
Wrote the justices: “Because there was no showing here that Freeman’s act of silently raising his middle finger from the back of the church during the church service constituted ‘fighting words’ or a ‘true threat’ that would amount to a tumultuous act, his conviction for disorderly conduct … cannot stand.”
Keep that in mind, next time you’re making obscene gestures and ranting about the public schools: Stick to that, and don’t take it too far.
Don’t wave a weapon, make threats or shout fighting words, or you could wind up in jail with the murderers.