Three Crimes Involving Religion - Which Is The Greatest?

In the past week:

  • A congregation of worshippers smothered an autistic boy while trying to rid his soul of demons.

  • A homophobic killer brutally murdered a fellow inmate, a priest convicted of child molestation.

  • A state Supreme Court chief justice defied court orders to remove a sculpture of the Ten Commandments from his courthouse rotunda.

Which of these three was the greatest crime?

There's no question which is the most shocking crime. A young boy's death during a misguided effort to exorcise his demons is a horrifying crime, and I'm glad to hear that it's going to be treated as a homicide. The death of John Geoghan is simply disgusting, because of the nature of his crimes. And Roy Moore's Ten Commandment stand induces eye rolls at best. On this basis, the death of the child is the greatest crime.

Yet there are other aspects of these crimes to consider. Malice and forethought determines how serious the crime is viewed. The lasting effects of each crime should be weighed, along with any unusual aspects to the crime. How does each event fare in these catagories?

The congregation is reported to have hit the child in previous exorcisms, and held him down forcibly. But was their malice directed at the child? We might say yes, but in their minds, they were fighting against a demon within the child. They loved the child, and hated the demon within him. And since they did not wish the child's death, forethought and planning of the death is eliminated. Only malice remains, and it's blunted by their mindset. They should have known better, God knows they should have. But they did not, and they will answer for the death their ignorance caused.

Joseph Druce had a life sentence for beating a gay man to death 15 years ago. The pedophilic priest John Geoghan was therefore a natural target for his wrath. Evidence shows that Druce planned this attack for a month. He jammed the lock mechanism to allow more time for his crime, he bound, gagged, and then strangled Geoghan into unconciousness, and then jumped from the bed on his supine form, beating him with his fists while officers struggled to open the door. His malice and forethought are palpable. (In the eyes of many, including myself, this crime is blunted by the crimes of the priest. I could wish a fairer end for the man, but the deed being done, I shed no tears for him.)

Roy Moore has been posting the Ten Commandments in his courtroom for years. When he was elected the chief justice, he secretly moved this sculpture into the rotunda the night before he was sworn in. It's a blatent endorsement of the Christian religion, and violated state law, federal law, and the law of God as written on the monument itself. Furthermore, Roy Moore has the sculpture copyrighted (the notice is on the lower left of the monument's back). The event reminds us of an earlier Alabama masterpiece of policy, Wallace's stand in the university door. Comparisons to Martin Luther King Jr. are not to be believed. His forethought is in evidence, and his malice? It's comparable to the ignorance of the congregation, but Moore is a more calculating perpetrator than they were - he knew full well what he was doing. His malice is greater than theirs.

And finally, lets consider the lasting effect of each crime. The autistic boy's death ends with his death. The death of Geoghan ends with his death. The defiance of Roy Moore will not end - though he has lost his office, his actions are being hailed by televangelists as those of a Daniel. He has gained from his crime, and is unrepentant. I expect replicas of his monument to be hawked as tithing gifts any day now. On this front, Roy Moore's crime is the greater.

Autistic MurderGeoghan MurderMoore's Defiance

The unusual deduction of points from Druce's total was due to the nature of Geoghan's crimes. Without that deduction, Druce's brutal act would just edge former MisChief Justice Moore's cynical ploy for attention. I agree with Jesus that it's better for defilers of children to have a millstone tied around their necks and be cast into the ocean. If Moore's monument could be substituted for the millstone, society would be a lot better off.


CNN: Autistic boy's death at church ruled homicide
Boston Globe: Monthlong plot to kill Geoghan
Anthony Sebok: The Controversy Over Alabama's Ten Commandment Statue
Democratic Underground Poll // Smirking Chimp Thread