July 17 , 2009
Minister wins right to threaten judge with biblical curses
(RNS) A Michigan appeals court on Tuesday (July 14) overturned a ruling that had sent a minister to jail for threatening a judge with curses from the Bible.
The appeals court unanimously decided the Rev. Edward Pinkney's rights to free speech were violated when he was sentenced to jail for writing a commentary criticizing his trial judge.
In 2007, Pinkney was convicted for paying people $5 to vote in a recall election for a congressional seat in Michigan's 6th District that he lost. He warned that the Lord would smite the judge who sentenced him to probation with "consumption and with a fever and with an inflammation and with extreme burning," referring to a passage in Deuteronomy.
The black minister from Benton Harbor, Mich., also called Judge Alfred Butzbaugh "dumb" and a "racist" in the commentary published in a Chicago-based populist newspaper.
Pinkney argued the judge encroached on his First Amendment rights when he sentenced him to prison for three to 10 years in June 2008.
"The Court of Appeals opinion reaffirms the basic American value that citizens cannot be imprisoned for criticizing government officials or expressing their religious beliefs," said Michael J. Steinberg, legal director at the ACLU of Michigan, in a statement.
"To our knowledge, this case marks the first time in modern history that a preacher has been thrown in prison for predicting what God might do."
The appeals court said a probation rule that allows judges to restrict a convict's First Amendment rights went too far.
-- Lindsay Perna