Back in 2014, a 14-year-old boy in the town of Everett, Pa., did something foolish.
The youngster climbed on a statue of Jesus outside a local religious group’s building and simulated a sex act. He had a photo taken and posted it on social media.
Did this teenager behave in a crass and offensive manner? You bet. Did he deserve to be arrested for it? That’s highly unlikely. The statue was not damaged, and officials at the Love in the Name of Christ ministry said they had no wish to press charges. They regarded it as a tasteless prank and said they would pray for the boy.
Nevertheless, Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins sent a state police officer to the boy’s home to arrest him. Higgins insisted that the youth had violated a 1972 Pennsylvania law that makes the “desecration, theft or sale of a venerated object” a second-degree misdemeanor. The law defines desecration as any act that “will outrage the sensibilities of persons likely to observe or discover the action.”
To Americans United, it looked like Higgins was trying to enforce a backdoor blasphemy law, and our attorneys told him so in a letter. Higgins was unfazed and on his Facebook page he wrote that if his effort to punish the boy “tends to upset the ‘anti-Christian, ban-school-prayer, war-on-Christmas, oppose-display-of-Ten-Commandments’ crowd,’ I make no apologies.”
The teen’s parents didn’t want him to end up in a juvenile correctional facility, so they accepted a plea bargain. A judge sentenced him to six months of probation and 350 hours of community service. In addition, he was ordered to stay off social media for six months.
Flash forward four years, and there’s been an interesting new development: Higgins, the district attorney who was so determined to defend the faith and morals of the community by prosecuting the teen, was arrested on April 5 and charged with 31 misdemeanors.
Higgins stands accused of dropping drug charges against several women in exchange for sexual favors. He immediately resigned, remarking, “I will not comment further on this matter. I pray to God for guidance as I work to strengthen my relationship with my family and strive to be the man that they deserve.”
Officials said they had been building a case against Higgins for years, and they sewed it up after they persuaded some of the women he victimized to testify against him.
Higgins’ actions put the community at risk. The investigators noted that in one case from 2016, Higgins allegedly called a probation officer and ordered him not to revoke the probation of a woman who had been arrested for driving under the influence. In another case, this one from 2015, he allegedly refused to approve a search warrant allowing the state police to search a woman’s home for drugs, even though witnesses swore that the woman was dealing.
Higgins is also accused of revealing informants’ identities to female drug dealers.
“The charges announced today are the culmination of years of tireless police work conducted by dedicated state police investigators, in cooperation with our law enforcement partners,” Major Douglas Burig, director of the state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation, said in a statement. “What was uncovered is a disturbing pattern of criminal activity that put police, witnesses and the community at risk. Today marks the next step toward seeking justice for the victims and restoring public trust in the office of the Bedford County District Attorney.”
It is, of course, not always the case that a far-right political figure who goes on a moral crusade has something to hide. But it happens often enough – yes, I’m talking to you, Roy Moore – that it does give one pause. Past cases are instructive: If you hear constant talk from a politician about “family values,” “traditional morals” and the need to “get back” to when we were a “Christian nation,” be a little skeptical. It could be a mask for something rotten festering just below the surface.
(Photo: Former Bedford County District Attorney William Higgins. Credit: Screenshot from Bedford County Press/YouTube.)