The exclusion of people of faith – particularly pastors – from influencing America’s election process is simply unconstitutional. Unfortunately, the State of Michigan has a criminal statute that is a direct attack against religion and those who profess sincerely held religious beliefs.
At issue in this case is § 168.931(1)(e) of the Michigan Compiled Laws (MCL), which states, “A priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society shall not for the purpose of influencing a voter at an election, impose or threaten to impose upon the voter a penalty of excommunication, dismissal, or expulsion, or command or advise the voter, under pain of religious disapproval.”
Anyone who violates this statute “is guilty of a misdemeanor,” and is subject to a fine or imprisonment.
This includes Dr. Levon Yuille, pastor of The Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Pastor Yuille is also the National Director of the National Black Pro-life Congress and the former Chairman of the Michigan Black Republican Council of Southern Michigan. In addition, Pastor Yuille hosts Joshua Trail, a popular Christian radio talk show that airs in Michigan and elsewhere.
As a pastor with a strong conviction that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, Pastor Yuille advises voters, including those voters who are members of his church, that to vote for a candidate such as President Barack Obama, who publicly supports immoral issues like abortion and gay marriage, is to act contrary to God’s Word. Moreover, Pastor Yuille advises voters in his church that to vote for such a candidate is a grave sin. Indeed, it is looked upon with religious disapproval, and it could endanger their soul and separate them from the body of Christ.
Consequently, Pastor Yuille’s sincerely held religious beliefs and his actions of advising voters pursuant to these beliefs violates MCL § 168.931(1)(e), thereby subjecting him to criminal prosecution.
On October 22, 2012, the American Freedom Law Center (AFLC) filed a federal civil rights lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Detroit, challenging this provision of Michigan’s election law. The lawsuit claims that this criminal law violates Pastor Yuille’s rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion protected by the First Amendment, and it violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by discriminating against religion.
As the lawsuit argues, Pastor Yuille is compelled by his sincerely held religious beliefs to influence voters to vote consistent with their Christian faith and to advise and inform them that to do otherwise is contrary to God’s Word. The First Amendment clearly protects Pastor Yuille’s right to do so; therefore, he cannot be punished by this criminal law.
CASE UPDATE (October 22, 2012): Federal civil rights lawsuit filed on October 22, 2012
CASE UPDATE (October 23, 2012): AFLC filed a motion for a temporary restraining order, requesting that the court immediately enjoin the enforcement of a Michigan law that prohibits religious speech “for the purpose of influencing a voter at an election.” Read the motion here.
CASE UPDATE (October 24, 2012): Federal Judge Gerald E. Rosen, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, has ordered a hearing for Tuesday, October 30, for AFLC’s emergency request for a temporary restraining order. Read the order here.
CASE UPDATE (October 29, 2012): AFLC files reply in support of its motion for a temporary restraining order. Read the brief here.
CASE UPDATE (November 1, 2012): AFLC files emergency motion for an injunction in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Read the motion here.
CASE UPDATE (November 16, 2012): AFLC files petition, requesting full court review before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Read petition here.
CASE UPDATE (December 19, 2012): The Sixth Circuit denied AFLC’s petition requesting full court review of AFLC’s emergency motion for a preliminary injunction. Case closed.