The Michigan Court of Appeals has granted an ACLU motion asking that a Benton Harbor, MI minister be freed pending his appeal on charges that he violated probation by criticizing a judge in a Chicago-based newspaper.
The Rev. Edward Pinkney was tossed into prison after the editorial appeared in the People's Tribune quoting scripture that suggested the judge would be cursed. A court ruled that Pinkney's remarks constituted a threat.
Pinkney, who has long crusaded against corruption in the Benton Harbor area was investigating alleged election fraud when he was charged with vote tampering and placed on probation. In response, he quoted scripture in the People's Tribune, implying that God would serve justice on Judge Alfred Butzbaugh. Pinkney, a Baptist minister, predicted that God would “curse” the judge unless he "hearken[ed] unto the voice of the Lord thy God to observe [and] to do all that is right." Pinkney also expressed his opinion in the article that the judge was racist, dumb, and corrupt.
Benton Harbor, a largely black city, is separated from neighboring mostly white St. Joseph, Michigan by a river, but the two cities could be light year's apart. Pinkney has long led efforts to end the disparity between the two, a disparity he believes is based on race. He has often accused the Berrien County court system, which presides over both cities, of racism.
Pinkney, who is black, was convicted by an all-white jury.
His case was the subject of a News Talk Online show on Paltalk.com. Many callers expressed outrage that a minister could be jailed for quoting the Bible.
The ACLU argued in its motion for bond pending appeal that the statements Pinkney made in his newspaper editorial, while offensive to many, are clearly protected speech under the First Amendment.