The Benton Harbor community activist Rev. Edward Pinkney–who had his been the target of a wide-ranging campaign of repression that he charges is politically motivated–had three friend-of-the-court briefs filed earlier this week on his behalf in a case in which he was sentenced to 3-10 years in prison for criticizing a judge.
Pinkney, who is now represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), had his probation revoked following a newspaper article he wrote in 2007. In that article, Pinkney quoted a Bible verse and predicted that God would punish 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 that the judge was racist, dumb, and corrupt. The judge resentenced him to 3-10 years in prison for violating his probation.
The ACLU eventually took up the case, arguing that Pinkney’s claims were constitutionally protected speech. In support of this argument, over a dozen national and local faith-based organizations, a group of law professors, and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Speech, filed three friend-of-the court briefs.
- The religious freedom brief represents the views of a wide array of religious and faith-based groups including: the National Association of Evangelicals, the American Jewish Congress, the Christian Legal Society, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the Liberty Legal Institute, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the National Baptist Convention, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Gamaliel Foundation, the American Baptist Home Mission Society, the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, and Rev. Harry T. Cook.
According to the brief, Rev. Pinkney’s article is “a textbook example of one important rhetorical and theological tradition within both Christianity and Judaism… Quoting scripture is core religious speech; the Framers of the First Amendment could not have imagined that it would ever be a criminal offense to quote scripture.”
- The professors’ brief represents the views of 18 law professors at the University of Michigan Law School, Michigan State University College of Law, Wayne State University Law School, the University of Detroit Mercy School of Law and the Thomas M. Cooley Law School. The brief explains that under well-established constitutional law, Rev. Pinkney’s newspaper editorial could not be the basis for punishment in a court of law. “In this country, under this Constitution, and on this Court’s watch,” they explained, “he must not be imprisoned for speaking his conscience.”
- The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression argued in its brief that Rev. Pinkney’s editorial was not a “true threat” under well-established First Amendment law. According to the Center’s brief, “In finding that Rev. Pinkney’s newspaper editorial violated his conditions of probation, the lower court punished speech at the core of First Amendment protection: public criticism of the judiciary.” The Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression is a nonprofit, nonpartisan institution dedicated solely to the protection of the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press.