by Jessica Carreras
BAY CITY, Mich. – Three Michigan pastors, along with American Family Association of Michigan head Gary Glenn, claim a new hate crime law infringes on their First Amendment rights and should be declared unconstitutional.
They filed a lawsuit Tuesday, Feb. 2, to try to strike down the portion of the federal law that expands federal hate crimes legislation to protect people targeted because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or disability. The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last fall as an attachment to the 2010 Defense Spending Bill.
The pastors believe they could be targeted for their sermons against what they refer to as “gay lifestyles.”
The plaintiffs include Jim Combs of Waterford, Rene Ouellette of Bridgeport and Levon Yuille of Ypsilanti. Combs is the pastor at Faith Baptist Church in Waterford, while Ouellette and Yuille represent the First Baptist Church of Bridgeport and The Bible Church of Ypsilanti, respectively.
According to the text of the lawsuit, Yuille, who hosts a talk radio show, has been “warned by his Canadian listeners that he will be targeted for adverse law enforcement action under … the Hate Crimes Act for his public ministry.” It also adds that Yuille finds comparisons between the LGBT rights struggle and the “real civil rights struggle of African Americans” offensive.
The suit references several cases in which leaders in the LGBT community called for holding pastors accountable for preaching hate to their members, who then committed hate crimes against LGBT people.
The lawsuit also includes several references to Bible verses that the plaintiffs claim are “facts” against homosexuality, justifying their sermons preaching against the LGBT community. “As Christians,” the text reads, “plaintiffs are called to spread God’s Word, including God’s Word regarding homosexuality.”
AFA-Mchigan’s Glenn, an outspoken opponent of LGBT rights advances in Michigan and beyond, is known to be involved most anti-gay efforts in the state, including leading the charge against city-wide anti-discrimination laws and co-authoring 2004’s Proposal 2, which banned same-sex marriages in the state.
As stated in the current lawsuit, “Plaintiff Glenn is an outspoken opponent of homosexual activism and so-called ‘gay rights’ legislation.”
His efforts have seen varying degrees of success.
But supporters of the hate crimes law are skeptical about Glenn and the pastors’ chances of striking down the federal act. They say it’s aimed at acts of violence, not speech by clergy. The Justice Department says it will defend the law.
The lawsuit is in federal court in Bay City. The plaintiffs are being represented by the Thomas More Law Center of Ann Arbor.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press.