Archive for September, 2014


Pennsylvania teenager faces jail time for “desecrating a venerated object”

Blasphemy in the U.S.???

Reader jsp called my attention to what seems a gross inequity in punishment, something that shouldn’t be happening in America. A teenager photographed himself in a compromising position with the statue of Jesus on a church lawn.  I’ve seen dozens of such pictures, and not just with Jesus, but it was the Jesus bit that got him in trouble. First, the picture and then the story, both from KRON 4 News in San Francisco:

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EVERETT, Pennsylvania (KRON) — A Pennsylvania teenager is facing criminal charges after posting pictures to Facebook of him simulating a sex act with a statue of Jesus.

The young man posted that he took the pictures in late July at the statue of a kneeling Jesus in front of the “Love in the Name of Christ” Christian organization in his hometown of Everett.

The criminal charge, which will be heard in family court, consists of “Desecration of a Venerated Object.”

Pennsylvania law defines desecration 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.”

The teen, whose name has not been released, could face up to two years in a juvenile jail if convicted.

For crying out loud, what is that law doing on the books? “Venerated object?”, really? Let’s see them try to convict somebody for burning a Bible or the Qur’an under that law. While what the kid is doing doesn’t really qualify as “free speech,” the most it could be is trespassing, and he should just have been let off with a warning. Now he’s going to court and could go to jail (I predict he won’t).

But that law is unconstitutional. For instance, I suppose I could say that I venerate Hitchens’s book God is Not Great.  If somebody damages it, could I take them to court? If I couldn’t because “venerated objects” apply only to religious objects, then that’s a violation of the Constitution.

This is America, not Saudi Arabia. Religion gets no pass. There is no damage here, and maybe a bit of trespassing, but desecration? Give me a break.

Because the piece was published in San Francisco, you can guess what the comments are like. Here are two:

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9/11 Conspiracy Theories: Why Do People Believe In September 11 Conspiracies?

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A deeper look into why people believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories. Reuters

Why do people believe in 9/11 conspiracy theories? It’s a simple question to ask, but not necessarily an easy one to answer. Some people might scoff at those who believe in the outlandish theories, but experts said there are several underlying causes why conspiracy theorists are compelled to go against official reports from the government and mainstream media. For one, people don’t want to trust the government. The rise of the Internet has also made it easier than ever to spread alternative suspicions about what “really” happened. What’s more, once someone is convinced a conspiracy is truth, it’s very difficult to change their mind.

There are dozens of conspiracy theories surrounding the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some speculate inside traders knew about the attack beforehand. There are people who are convinced that bombs, not airliners, destroyed the Twin Towers. One of the more popular theories states that the U.S. government, not al Qaeda, was behind the attacks.

When people were asked in the 1950s if they could trust the government to do what is right, 75 percent of people said they did, said Robert Alan Goldberg, a history professor at the University of Utah and the author of “Enemies Within: The Culture of Conspiracy in Modern America.” But there has been a dramatic change since then because of events like the Vietnam War, the Watergate wiretapping scandal and President Bill Clinton’s intern romance. Now, only a small minority of Americans trust the government to do what is right, Goldberg said.

Part of the reason people turn to conspiracy theories has to do with their lack of trust in the government, conspiracy theory expert Tim Melley, an English professor at Miami University in Ohio, said. People are aware of secretive government programs like the CIA and National Security Agency, but most of that knowledge comes from film and fantasy. “It’s often illegal to report on these kinds of activities,” Melley said. “The public is in this strange fantasy world where they know about clandestine activity, but we don’t know about it in the way we know about other things. It’s creates a suspicion about the government.”

There’s been a blur between what is fact and fiction because of Americans’ fascination with media, Goldberg said. “The greatest historians, if you will, are filmmakers,” he said. “When the film blends with the history, the film becomes history.”

The Internet has also helped conspiracy theories win over new followers. “It’s easier to spread untruths,” said Scott Bigelow, a public communication specialist at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

It doesn’t help that people often turn to the Internet for information that backs up their personal views, Goldberg said. “You go on to the internet to seek conformation,” he said. “Your views are amplified and validated.”

A conspiracy theory can help restore order after a seemingly senseless act occurs, said Kathleen Olmsted, a history professor at the University of California Davis. “The theories serve the psychological purpose of helping people to believe that there is order in the universe and that someone is in charge,” she said.

In the end, it’s just too hard to stop believing, Goldberg said.

“They look for confirming information or they interpret information in a confirming way,” he said. “They lose the ability to find the facts that might trip it up and either disguise them, ignore them or argue those facts are planted. Once you believe in a conspiracy theory, the condition is hard to break.”

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