Keep your Rosaries off my Hanging Chads

Michigan statute (MCL §168.931(1)(e)) is an extraordinary criminal law:

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.

Violation is a misdemeanor. Really. This is not The Onion.

Dr. Levon Yuille, pastor of The Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan, National Director of the National Black Pro-Life Congress and former Chairman of the Michigan Black Republican Council of Southern Michigan has sued, seeking an injunction, claiming that the law violates his free speech, free exercise and equal protection rights (and, of course, asking for reasonable civil rights act attorney fees). From his complaint:


13. Pastor Yuille believes that the Church is the body of Christ.
14. Pastor Yuille believes that when a person acts contrary to God’s Word, the person
risks separating himself or herself from the body of Christ.
15. Pastor Yuille believes that excommunication occurs when a person separates himself or herself from the body of Christ.
16. Pursuant to his sincerely held religious beliefs, Pastor Yuille believes, professes,  and advises that abortion and gay marriage are gravely immoral and contrary to God’s Word. Pastor Yuille expresses his beliefs publicly and privately, including when he is speaking to potential voters, including potential voters who are members of his church.
17. Pursuant to his sincerely held religious beliefs, Pastor Yuille believes, professes, and advises that it is a grave sin for a politician to support abortion and gay marriage. Pastor Yuille expresses his beliefs publicly and privately, including when he is speaking to potential voters, including potential voters who are members of his church.
18. Pursuant to his sincerely held religious beliefs, Pastor Yuille believes, professes, and advises that it is a grave sin for a Christian to knowingly vote for a politician that publicly supports abortion and gay marriage. Pastor Yuille expresses his beliefs publicly and privately, including when he is speaking to potential voters, including potential voters who are members of his church.
19. Pastor Yuille believes, professes, and advises that it is a grave sin for a Christian to vote for a candidate such as President Barack Obama, who publicly supports abortion and gay marriage. Pastor Yuille expresses his beliefs publicly and privately, including when he is speaking to potential voters, including potential voters who are members of his church.
20. Pastor Yuille believes, professes, and advises that when a Christian knowingly votes for a politician who publicly supports abortion and gay marriage, the voter becomes a partner in the sin and his or her soul is in danger of eternal damnation. As a result, the voter is separating himself or herself from the body of Christ. Pastor Yuille expresses his beliefs publicly and privately, including when he is speaking to potential voters, including potential voters who are members of his church.
21. As a result of the upcoming presidential election scheduled for November 6, 2012, 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, it is a sin, it is looked upon with religious disapproval, and it could endanger their soul and separate them from the body of Christ.
22. Pursuant to his sincerely held religious beliefs, Pastor Yuille advises voters, including those voters who are members of his church, that to vote for a candidate that publicly supports abortion and gay marriage, such as President Barack Obama, is to act contrary to God’s Word, it is a grave sin, it is looked upon with religious disapproval, and it could endanger their soul and separate them from the body of Christ.
23. As a result of his sincerely held religious beliefs and his desire to express those beliefs publicly, Pastor Yuille is a pastor, who, for the purpose of influencing a voter at an election, including those voters who are members of his church, advises the voter, under pain of religious disapproval and the potential for suffering separation from the body of Christ, to vote consistent with God’s Word.

Michigan’s Attorney General pooh-poohs the suit on the basis that the law isn’t enforced.

Here endeth the reading of the day. (H/T Howard Friedman at Religion Clause blog)

There’s a reason why the law isn’t enforced, of course. A more brazen violation of any “separation of Church and State” could hardly be imagined than the state criminalizing the expression of religious convictions that intersect politics, such as homiletically warning people of the spiritual consequences of, oh, becoming “a partner in sin.” That Michigan’s Attorney General could find 20 pages worth of stuff to say in resisting the suit testifies that Michigan has a world-class bloviator in the A.G.’s office (although he, unlike the Obama administration, is actually doing his job by defending, as best he can, a law he disagrees with).

I don’t know what Dr. Yuille preaches for, nor do I know how broad and balanced is the list of things he preaches against. I’ve got “seamless garment” leanings, and it’s my current expectation that I’ll vote neither for (1) the regal imposter who’s never met an abortion he didn’t like. doesn’t remember what marriage is, thinks free birth control is more important than religious freedom and personally maintains a list of people who can be assassinated as enemies of the state, nor for (2) the empty suit who thinks there’s nothing wrong with the world that can’t be fixed by American invading or bombing some sovereign state.

But monitoring or punishing religious admonitions is no role of the government, even if those admonitions have very pointed political implications. The first amendment was addressed to Congress, and has been extended to Michigan by the 14th Amendent (or so the incorporationist story goes).

The first amendment has no application whatever to what any church, “priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society” may do. As my constitutional law professor, the late Patrick Baude put it, “If the Pope of Rome, the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem and the Rev. Billy Graham got together and engineered the assassination of the President because of some common religious conviction, they would not thereby violate the Constitution.”

So I both wish and predict that Dr. Yuille should win, and that his attorneys for the American Freedom Law Center should be awarded the modest attorney fees (no lodestar multiplier, please) earned from successfully laying down the royal flush the Michigan legislature dealt them – nearly sixty years ago, when anti-Catholicism was perhaps even more brazen than it is now.

About readerjohn

I am a retired lawyer and an Orthodox Christian, living in a collapsing civilization, the modern West. There are things I'll miss when it's gone. There are others I won't. That it is collapsing is partly due to calculated subversion, summarized by the moniker "deathworks." This blog is now dedicated to exposing and warring against those deathwork - without ceasing to spread a little light.
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