Vail Daily column: A Christmas sedition story
The Christmas goose is weighing heavy in your belly. Time, perhaps, for a just-post-Christmas Christmas tale.
This is a secular Christmas story and requires some imagination on your part. Envision, if you will, the year is 2012 and Jesus, rather than of Nazareth is, instead, Jesus of El Jebel. Of course this is difficult in itself since the year 2012 is keyed off of the historic figure of Jesus and, were it not Jesus of Nazareth in the year 1 in the sleepy hollows of the Middle East, we wouldn’t call it the year 2012 at all. Hmmm. Nonetheless …
Jesus has been swept up at a dinner party, charged, and hustled off to meet his fate. After months of agitation, he has been expecting this.
Presume, instead of before the Council of High Priests in pre-modern Jerusalem, we are, the next morning, in the decidedly post-modern Araj Federal Courthouse in Denver. Instead of Caiaphas, Jesus is facing an unnamed federal district court judge. He is advised of the charges brought against him. He stands, stock still and peaceful – serene – absorbing the indictment.
The charges leveled are these:
• Blasphemy. This one is a tough one to translate to modern times. Blasphemy, as you may know, is the disrespectful use of the name of one or more gods. Modernly, at least in a secular state such as ours, we do not have a clear equivalent. As the Roman pantheon of gods and the state were intimately intertwined, however, let’s call this, instead, sedition. “Sedition” may be defined as covert conduct, such as speech and organization that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. In inciting rebellion against lawful authority, Jesus’ conduct bordered on the act of treason.
• Unlawful assembly. While one’s right of peaceable assembly is guaranteed under the First Amendment of the Constitution, the right is not absolute. Violent assembly, one where there is a “clear and present danger” or “imminent incitement of lawlessness” may be proscribed and its violation prosecuted.
• Conspiracy. Jesus is accused of colluding with his followers to achieve his unlawful designs. To “conspire” means to join in a secret agreement to engage in an unlawful act. In this case, Jesus actively encouraged others to join with him in his seditious designs to undermine the state.
• Criminal destruction of property, terrorism, assault and battery. All of these derive from driving the money changers from the temple and the threat to tear the temple down. It is a crime to injure the property of another, whether public or private. Under the circumstances present in this matter, the property destruction was undeniably intentional and may be said to have been malicious. “Terrorism” may occur when property damage is undertaken for the purpose of intimidating a government or society at large. A convenient example may be the Earth Liberation Front who employs the destruction of property to undermine society and further is its agenda. In chasing out the money changers, Jesus may have also committed assault and battery which may be defined as where one tries to, or does, physically strike another, or acts in a threatening manner to put another in fear of immediate harm.
• Criminal trespass. Generally, one commits the crime of “criminal trespass” when he enters or remains on another’s property without the owner’s consent. Consent may mean that the person knew he didn’t have the owner’s consent or if the owner or someone with the authority to act on behalf of the owner personally communicates this fact to him. One may start out with consent but if the consent is then withdrawn, and the person fails to leave, a trespass may result.
• Criminal mischief. Criminal mischief is another crime against property. It is the willful damaging of the property of another. Mark 11:15 bears witness. “When they came to Jerusalem, he went into the temple and began to throw out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple. He overturned the moneychangers’ tables and the chairs of those who sold doves.” There might be an animal cruelty charge here as well.
What then if found guilty of all charges would have become of Jesus? Just as before Caiaphas, then Pilate, the blasphemy/sedition allegation is the most serious. It would likely be prosecuted under 18 U.S.C. §2384, into which new life was breathed following the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks. Punishment for seditious conspiracy is imprisonment for not more than 20 years. If, instead, treason were proved under 18 U.S.C. §2381, the punishment could, conceivably be more severe. If aid and comfort were given to an enemy – not consistent with the facts here – death could be the sentence. Otherwise, and more likely under our circumstances, the penalty would be imprisonment for not less than five years, a fine not less than $10,000; a life-long proscription from holding any office under the United States.
Crucifixion? Not under the harshest sentence which might be meted out. But then the story would not be so compelling and Christmas would be another thing entirely.
Happy holidays to all and for the blessings of peace in the new year.
Rohn K. Robbins is an attorney licensed before the bars of Colorado and California who practices in the Vail Valley with the law firm of Stevens, Littman, Biddision, Tharp and Weinberg LLC. His practice areas include business and commercial transactions, real estate and development, family law, custody, divorce and civil litigation. He may be heard on Wednesdays at 7 p.m. on KZYR radio (97.7 FM) and seen on ECOTV 18 as host of “Community Focus.” Robbins may be reached at 970-926-4461 or at either of his e-mail addresses, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org