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Monday, September 1, 2014

"Dark Lord" Arrested in Arizona for Unlawful Symbol Burning

Reuters reports:

A 22-year-old Arizona man calling himself "Dark Lord" has been arrested for allegedly burning a Bible and urinating on it outside a Christian-oriented homeless shelter in northern Arizona, police said on Friday.

Eric Minerault was booked into the Yavapai County Detention Center late on Thursday on suspicion of one count of unlawful symbol burning stemming from the incident at the Gospel Rescue Mission, Prescott police spokesman Lieutenant Ken Morley said in a written statement.
The facts in the case are still somewhat unclear, since "Dark Lord" could refer to a number of entities. Morgoth is the possibility that initially jumped to my mind, although last I heard, he was living in Portland. Also, Minerault's attire suggests otherwise, since he "was wearing a black-and-red robe and a pentagram necklace," which suggests that he was taking a more Satanic approach to invoking the powers of evil.

While the facts of this case are bizarre, the crime of "unlawful symbol burning" that Minerault / The Dark Lord was suspected of caught my attention as well.

A quick search reveals that only Arizona has a law criminalizing "unlawful symbol burning." Section 13-1708 of the Arizona Statutes reads:

13-1708. Unlawful symbol burning; classification 
A. It is unlawful for a person to burn or cause to be burned any symbol not addressed by section 13-1707 on the property of another person without that person's permission or on a highway or any other public place with the intent to intimidate any person or group of persons. The intent to intimidate may not be inferred solely from the act of burning the symbol, but shall be proven by independent evidence. 
B. A person who violates this section is guilty of a class 1 misdemeanor.
Section 13-1707 of the Arizona Statutes refers to the crime of burning a cross with the intent to intimidate. That crime is almost identical to 13-1708, but only applies to situations where the defendant burns a cross. Several other states, including Alabama, Illinois, and Missouri outlaw the burning of a cross with the intent to intimidate others. But those states do not have provisions that apply to the burning of other symbols in general (although Alabama's cross-burning statute also applies to situations where an American flag is burned with the intent to intimidate others).

Minerault may attempt to raise a First Amendment defense, arguing that his burning of the Bible is protected speech. But as long as the prosecution can prove that Minerault burned the Bible with the intent to intimidate others, Minerault's speech will fall into the unprotected category of "true threats," which the Supreme Court recognized in Virginia v. Black.

Would the facts support a finding that Minerault burned the bible with the intent to intimidate others? Probably. Reuters reports:

Officers found Minerault standing on the steps, with a burned and wet Bible on the ground near him. He quickly admitted to the act.

He told officers the mission was selected because he believed it was a place of Christian worship and he was “cursing the Christians,” police said.
I would not be surprised if the Dark Lord ended up spending some time in jail as a result of this incident.

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