Update: David Justin Freeman's use of the middle finger in a Flowery Branch church and his speech regarding the school system is protected by the First Amendment, according to an October 2017 unanimous decision by the Supreme Court of Georgia.
A man is appealing to the Georgia Supreme Court his disorderly conduct conviction for shouting “don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids” in a Hall County church, claiming his acts were free speech protected by the First Amendment.
David Justin Freeman was charged with disorderly conduct Aug. 3, 2014, after an outburst at 12Stone church in Flowery Branch. He will appeal the conviction Monday morning.
According to the summary provided by the court, 12Stone pastor Jason Berry was conducting the service when he asked teachers to stand and be recognized.
A home-schooling father, Freeman “raised his middle finger in the air and stared angrily at Berry,” according to the court’s summary.
Berry, listed on the church’s website as associate executive pastor for ministry development, testified at trial that Freeman shouted, “Don’t send your kids to the evil public schools. Don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids.”
“According to prosecutors, Freeman was so loud the music director had to turn up the music,” according to the court’s summary.
Freeman was arrested and charged with misdemeanor disorderly conduct and was later convicted by a jury.
Freeman, who is representing himself and claimed to be a volunteer minister at the church, argued his words were constitutionally protected as political speech and that the disorderly conduct statute is “overbroad and vague.”
“The state does not have a right or an interest to enter churches and stop ministers from addressing their congregations in compliance with the rules of the church, regardless of whether or not the church’s pastor is pleased by the message,” according to Freeman’s briefs in the court’s summary.
Freeman also claims Berry called him a “coward” in a confrontation and that the Hall County Sheriff’s Office arrested him for political reasons and Freeman’s “complaining about their speeding,” according to the court summary.
Berry, 12Stone church officials and the sheriff’s office did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
The Hall County Solicitor’s Office argued the First Amendment should not cover his speech.
“Furthermore, Pastor Berry testified that the actions of defendant caused the pastor to be both fearful for himself and the other hundreds of people in the room as well as angry at the manner in which the message was being communicated, qualifying defendant’s actions as threatening and an immediate breach of the peace,” according to court briefs in the court’s summary.