An interesting new lawsuit has been filed by Levon Yuille, pastor of The Bible Church in Ypsilanti, Michigan against a state law that forbids ministers from threatening to excommunicate members of their church if they don’t vote for a particular candidate. You can read the complaint here.
You may remember Yuille as one of the plaintiffs who challenged the federal hate crimes law two years ago, a case that was immediately dismissed because the wingnuts who filed the suit could not establish that they were at any risk whatsoever of having the law applied to them (that law requires that you actually commit a crime of violence or against property; it does not apply, as the plaintiffs claimed, to anyone who preaches bigoted things). He’s represented by the American Freedom Law Center, which is a spinoff of the Thomas More Law Center owned by Robert Muise, who worked for the TMLC for many years.
Michigan law says this:
“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.”
But Attorney General Bill Schuette, a Republican who is conservative himself and sympathetic to religious liberty issues, dismisses the lawsuit, saying: “This law has been on the books for more than a century, and we are not aware of any prosecutions advanced during the modern era.”
On Friday, he filed a 20-page response to the lawsuit, saying it has no legitimate basis.
So this state law is just like the federal law that prohibits electioneering by churches — it’s on the books but is almost never enforced.