The Georgia Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 2 in favor of a man who was convicted of disorderly conduct after he flipped a bird at his pastor while inside a church. The court said his behavior was considered protected speech and reversed an earlier decision.
In August 2014, 12Stone Church in Flowery Branch's pastor Jason Berry requested for teachers who were in attendance to stand so that the congregation could pray for their success the rest of the year. David Justin Freeman stood up and raised his middle finger while giving the pastor an angry stare, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution detailed.
"Don't send your kids to the evil public schools," Freeman reportedly shouted. "Don't let Satan or the devil raise your kids."
According to Pastor Berry in his court testimony, he was alarmed by what Freeman did and called for a sheriff's deputy. Freeman was later charged and convicted with disorderly conduct and was sentenced to a year-long probation plus a fine of $270.
However, the state's Supreme Court unanimously overturned Freeman's conviction. In the ruling, Justice Harold Melton explained that "silently raising a middle finger" during a church service does not constitute a "true threat."
Last year, 12Stone Church made headlines after its campuses near Lawrenceville and Duluth were vandalized by people who inflicted a total of $10,000 in damages. Police said the vandals had spray painted biblical references and other symbols on the buildings and also broke exterior windows, Gwinnett Daily Post reported.
Police spokeswoman Cpl. Michele Pihera said the suspect left pamphlets at both campuses to convey their dislike over the church's operations. Based on surveillance footage, the suspect looked around before spray painting the lens of a surveillance camera.
12Stone CFO and spokesperson Norwood Davis revealed that it was not the first time that the church had been vandalized, but a lot of people did not know about the previous incident because they had already cleaned it up before the worshippers arrived.
Davis said at that time that the church would have loved to speak to the people responsible for the acts of vandalism so that they could understand their concerns. Despite what happened, he said 12Stone Church will continue to serve its purpose.