The Supreme Court of Georgia has reversed the conviction of a man charged with disorderly conduct in Hall County for raising his middle finger to a pastor during a church service.
David Justin Freeman had appealed his conviction, arguing the statute is, "unconstitutionally vague and over broad," a Monday morning summary of the State Supreme Court opinion stated.
In the opinion, the high court rejected Freeman's constitutional challenge, but overturned the conviction, finding, "that the statute does not apply to him because his conduct was protected by the First Amendment," the summary stated.
The case stemmed from an August 3, 2014 outburst at 12Stone Church's Flowery Branch campus.
According to the court summary, Pastor Jason Berry had asked teachers present at the service to stand so the congregation could pray for them. Freeman, a homeschooling father who said he is a volunteer minister, a stood up in the back of the church, raised his middle finger in the air and began yelling after the prayer, according to the summary.
"Don’t send your kids to the evil public schools. Don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids," Freeman shouted, according to Berry's testimony at Freeman's trial.
Berry said the behavior made him fear for himself and over 250 members of the congregation that day.
Freeman also testified at his trial, according to the high court summary.
"I believe that I would have been failing in my duty as a minister to the church and God if I had not confronted Jason for what he said, and I believe that I did so in the most appropriate way possible."
A jury convicted Freeman at trial. He was sentenced to pay a $270 fine and 12 months of probation. Freeman appealed, and the State Supreme Court heard the arguments this past May.
"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 under § 16-11-39 (a) (1) cannot stand," Monday's opinion stated.
The high court also ruled that Freeman can't be re-tried on the charge.