Flipping the bird in church is protected speech, court rules

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David Freeman was convicted of disorderly conduct in the 2014 incident  (Hall County Sheriff's Office)

Georgia's highest court has thrown out the conviction of a man who was arrested on a disorderly conduct charge three years ago after he gestured with his middle finger and shouted at his church pastor.

The Georgia Supreme Court unanimously ruled Monday that David Freeeman's outburst constituted protected speech under the First Amendment.

The incident occurred in August 2014 at the 12Stone Church in Flowery Branch, 45 miles northeast of Atlanta. The church's pastor, Jason Berry, asked teachers to stand for recognition so the congregation could pray for them to have a successful school year.

Freeman, according to the court's opinion, stood up and raised his middle finger before shouting, "Don’t send your kids to the evil public schools! Don’t let Satan or the devil raise your kids!"

Berry called authorities and Freeman was convicted of a misdemeanor. He was sentenced to a year's probation and ordered to pay a $270 fine.

Writing for the court, Presiding Justice Harold D. Melton wrote that "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.

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