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Posted on Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 2:08 p.m.

Ypsilanti pastor challenging law that limits political speech of religious leaders

By Katrease Stafford

An Ypsilanti pastor will file an appeal Friday after two courts dismissed his case to challenge a Michigan law that restricts what religious leaders can say about politics, according to the Detroit Free Press.


The Rev. Levon Yuille of Ypsilanti Bible Church speaks on the steps of the Hatcher Graduate Library at the University of Michigan during a religious freedom rally in June.

Ryan J. Stanton |

The Rev. Levon Yuille, a conservative Christian, filed a lawsuit against Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette last month citing fear his right to speak about politics with his church members and others could be affected by the law, according to the report.

The Michigan Election Law, enacted in 1954, states that any pastor or religious officer "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."

Schuette told the Free Press the law has not been enforced for a long while and U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen ruled two weeks ago that the case has no legal standing. The U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Rosen.

Yuille is the pastor of the Bible Church in Ypsilanti located at 611 E. Cross St. He has been active in a number of causes, including rallying for religious freedom and opposing a hate crime law he said infringed on his First Amendment right.

Read the full story here.


John Seychel

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 10:07 p.m.

It is clearly written in the constitution, and we don't need any random dude who wants to start a takeover of this country. I'm sorry, but an idiot is as an idiot does. 501-c-3 also clearly has it written also. So if you want to be a political person, then be it, but Jesus said to keep separate church and state. So it is written in many places.

Billy Bob Schwartz

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 5:07 p.m.

"The Michigan Election Law, enacted in 1954, states that any pastor or religious officer "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." Obviously, the law does not say that the preacher cannot share his views with his congregation, political or otherwise. What it is saying is that you can't do so in such a way that people feel threatened by the power of the church or the pastor. Read that last part: "under pain of religious disapproval." You can't us the pulpit (or any other part of life, right bosses?) to put pressure on members of your congregation to vote a certain way. If your boss tells you to vote a certain way or you will be laid off, it's the same thing. Laid off; sent to heck; same idea. I don't see what this has to do with taxes. Anyone who pays taxes or doesn't pay taxes must allow voters to vote (or not vote) or register (or not register) without putting pressure on them to do so. Bosses, pastors, neighbors, friends, police, teachers, street walkers, local or state or federal officials...all have the same limitation. So pastor: please read the law. You can speak out. You can't threaten those who disagree with you and want to vote otherwise.

martini man

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 1:13 a.m.

The Bible is pretty clear about true christian organizations getting involved in politics. However it applies to left wing groups as well as right wing groups . The last time I looked, it was the REVEREND Jackson ..the REVERAND Sharpton ..the REVEREND Wright as well as the evangelical christians, nauseum ..All the religious political meddling needs to be taxed. Most large religious organizations including the catholic church, are heavily involved in politics. Not to mentiom the radical islamic groups. They all need to be taken to task for interferring in the politics of the secular world.. Plus ..they have billions of dollars of tax free money waiting to be tapped into.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 4:23 p.m.

Despite all the confusion among commenters here and hate from the ones on the left, what's happening here is something that's happening across the country, and I think it's something that needs to be settled. Lyndon B. Johnson, when he was a Senator, led the cause to have this restriction placed on tax-exempt organizations under 501(c). His motivation was to seek revenge on a political opponent. Many states have similar laws; we see the Michigan version quoted above in the article. The Constitutionality of this law (the federal one) has been questioned ever since, on the basis of the 1st Amendment, and I think it's a good time to have the argument and settle it.

Unusual Suspect

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 3:26 p.m.

The traditional definition of marriage seemed pretty settled to me for centuries. So are we supposed to discuss it for another 70 years?

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 7:03 p.m.

"The Constitutionality of this law (the federal one) has been questioned ever since, on the basis of the 1st Amendment, and I think it's a good time to have the argument and settle it." If people have been arguing against it on a constitutional basis for 7 decades, through conservative and liberal presidencies and supreme courts, and it is still the law and part of the tax code, that seems pretty settled to me. So are we supposed to discuss it for another 70 years until he finally gets what he wants?


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:36 p.m.

It's about ensuring separation of church and state. Also, if religious leaders want to start promoting political views from their churches, then it's time for them to start paying taxes.

martini man

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 3:30 a.m.

yes I agree..but it goes for the left wing revs as well.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 12:19 p.m.

Always fun to read the obamaites rants at any one who doesn't follow the annointed one..wonder how much tax's jerima wright pays or al sharpton or jessie jackson or ..or ..or... or....point made....

Cpt. Amerijuanica

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:55 a.m.

PS. If you find solace in using religion to justify politics you are nothing more than one who clearly chooses to ignore your creators commandments and his word... whether it be allah and his hadiths, or Jesus/God and his commandments, or even Joseph Smith Jr. and his mormon doctrine and covenants... NONE of them tell you that intolerance and judgmental bigotry is right, they ALL clearly state that it is WRONG. kthxdone

Cpt. Amerijuanica

Mon, Nov 19, 2012 : 5:52 a.m.

motorcycleminer..... SIR..... please do me a favor and point out where Jesus of Nazareth says unto his followers [which you have claimed to be] that it is the will of God to injudiciously discriminate against any race of which you view to possess choices that contradict the anointed one's gospel. Also, where in the bible does it command its followers to go forth as an evangelist of the Almighty and pridefully spout bigotry and proselytize to the believers of God who [in your ignorant mind] have been led astray by the (preachers of false truth) aka Obamanites, that their beliefs have been corrupted and the Christian thing to do is to point out anything that plays on people's prideful emotions and use that to influence their thoughts into agreeance with your own? I'm pretty sure that you SIR are the poster-child of a blasphemer and the living example of how to mock the lord almighty's holy word... You want to make a point of liberals being over zealous of religious checks & balances? FINE. But before you do, be sure that when you make your evangelical point that your words are not ones that in the eyes of the lord would be a treasonous act of blasphemy and sin. His word... the Almighty's word I mean, states that you should go forth and preach his word and be an example of tolerance, love, and piety. Love thy neighbor regardless of his faith, race, or anything to be exact. And if thy neighbor chooses with his OWN free will to deny the word of God, then the problem be not in your interest to give further attention to for his fate is known ONLY to God. And unless you, motorcycleminer, are GOD.... then do yourself, your faith, and your anointed one a HUGE favor and be quiet. thanks, liberal who ACTUALLY read the bible and then chose to make a logical but personal decision to kindly refute the word of most of this 'good book'

martini man

Sat, Nov 17, 2012 : 3:33 a.m.

You won't get much sympathy from these Ann Arbor liberals ..but yes ALL meddling religiosos christian, muslim, jewish, etc need to be taxed and taxed again. But the liberals would only want to silence and tax the ones who oppose their socialist views.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:21 p.m.

What was the point you were trying to make?

Basic Bob

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 11:09 a.m.

How is this so different from labor unions who buy elections, bring in bus loads of voters to support their cause, and also enjoy tax-free status?


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:24 p.m.

Unions cannot use dues for political action. Union PACs are not tax-exempt.

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2 p.m.

Unions are a different part of the tax code and have different prohibitions and rules. As are municipal leagues such as the League of Concerned Voters. As are Super PACS's. It's an entirely different situation.

average joe

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 3:15 a.m.

Isn't the bigger question why 'religious' non-profits are being singled out in this law that forbids speaking out on political issues, while virtually all other non-profits (and non-taxed) associations can?

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 4:29 p.m.

The federal law addresses all 501(c) organizations. However, it appears (from a first quick reading) that the Michigan law, which Rev. Levon Yuille (which is a really cool name, by the way) is objecting to, addresses only, "priest, pastor, curate, or other officer of a religious society."

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:16 a.m.

That's actually incorrect. If you enjoy a tax free status under as a 501c3, then you are not allowed to lobby, donate, or push for or against particular political candidates as a member of the clergy (i.e. working for the church and on church time) unless you want to risk losing your tax free status. They will not arrest you or detain you or ship you off to a gulag or bush era Gitmo. They will simply send you a tax bill after a lengthy non profit revocation process. This is the same for all other groups (defined as Religious, Educational, Charitable, Scientific, Literary, Testing for Public Safety, to Foster National or International Amateur Sports Competition, or Prevention of Cruelty to Children or Animals Organizations) who fall under this tax grouping. There are loopholes around this, like preaching on "moral" or religious issues without advocating a specific candidate or creating groups outside of the church (friends groups are common) that hold different tax statuses or bringing in enough donations that only a small portion goes to legislative campaigning (still cannot be for or against a candidate). But if he wants to advocate specific candidates, then his church simply can relinquish their tax free status and he can preach politically all he wants and pay taxes like every other company. And no matter the status of his church, no one is limiting his free speech as an American citizen outside of work. By the way, this has been the law of the land for almost 70 years and in no way singles out for any undue harm.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 12:50 a.m.

I love how the left want to condition free speech on tax status.

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 8:29 a.m.

It's not the left or right. It's the IRS....which ever way they lean.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:43 p.m.

So, it's ok for U-M officials to support a political party but a religious offical cannot?

greg, too

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:52 p.m.

Speaking from the pulpit, yes, that is the law. Right or wrong, that is the law.

Albert Howard

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 10:05 p.m.

I'll always speak politically from the pulpit without trepidation.

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 2:14 p.m.

So your defense of what you are doing is by citing an article that illustrates the massive tax losses municipalities are suffering, which leads to service losses, due to churches like yours or the reverend in the story flaunting and skirting the tax laws? So while your local school district (you are in a2, right?) is trying to find 10-16 mil to cover it's bills, you are flaunting the fact that you and other churches willingly violate our tax codes and thusly don't pay your taxes and hide behind the governments inability to collect? Interesting defense Mr. Howard.... And interesting quote from the article you posted. "The property tax break is probably even bigger. In their 2011 book "Politics, Taxes, and the Pulpit," law professors Nina Crimm and Laurence Winer calculated that houses of worship received $12.7 billion in property tax exemptions on $685 billion of property in 2006, a figure large enough to have played a role in city and state budget deficits of recent years." Although all of that money is not from Ypsi or A2, can you imagine how much easier our lives as municipalities would be if our churches paid their fair share of the tax burden? Especially those that willingly flaunt the law and even taunt the government? I am hoping this article comes to the attention of our local officers of the IRS and they pay your church, as well as Yuilles, a visit.

Albert Howard

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 10:53 a.m.

Middle America

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1:36 a.m.

Googling your "church" shows that it is located in the Georgetown co-ops, Albert. Is your "pulpit" in someone's basement or something? Sounds pretty legit.

Albert Howard

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:44 p.m.

@ greg, too Ann Arbor Different Church

greg, too

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:32 p.m.

Please let us know what church you represent and then the IRS, if they do indeed do their jobs, should pay you a visit as you are violating the law of the land and have admitted to it. I really wouldn't take lying to the government and violating tax law as a thing you should be proud of. If your church is actually stripped of your non profit status, you most likely could bankrupt your church.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:29 p.m.

Religious organizations are not subject to taxes but members of the clergy DO pay taxes.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 10:26 p.m.

Why not? And, if a preacher were a moral man, he would pay taxes just like everyone else. Time to end the free ride on the taxpayers' backs.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:16 p.m.

Start paying taxes and you can say what you want.

Ricardo Queso

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 8:52 p.m.

Political speech in churches should be limited. Putting the congregation on a bus after telling them who and what to vote for negates any tax-exempt status.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

No problem just share the wealth, pay the tax.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 7:49 p.m.

I would hope that if this pastor truly believes the Bible is God's word, he is reminded by Romans 13 that God puts those that are in authority over us and it is from his will/purpose that he selects those individuals. Also be reminded from Philippians, that as followers of Christ, our true citizenship is not of this world but of God's Kingdom. Christ followers should trust that God knows what he's doing and He has a purpose behind every individual that is in an elected position. Preaching contrary to that, preaching to vote for a specific candidate, could be construed as not having faith in God or even thinking that you, as a imperfect sinful human being, could thwart an almighty God's decision/will. Maybe instead of preaching about politics and who to vote for, maybe he should encourage his flock to pray for all elected leaders, that they make good thoughtful decisions and remember that regardless of what is happening/what happens, God is in control. Just something for this pastor to think about.

Alan Goldsmith

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 7:40 p.m.

Rev. Levon Yuille--here's the deal. If you use your non-profit, tax exempt organization or building to spout off your right wing nonsense, then I'm fine with it. Just give up your non-profit status, pay TAXES like the rest of us and we're good to go. Pick one--you can't have BOTH. As always, it's about the MONEY.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:51 p.m.

What is a political non profit and what would it have to be taxed? If it owns the land and building from which it operates, it would pay taxes on those, something churches do not do.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 8:25 p.m.

Do political non-profits pay taxes at least during election years?

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 7:35 p.m.

It's a weird trade-off. I certainly agree that Yuille should be free to preach about politicians. However, the idea that churches and church donations are tax-exempt? That seems like a violation of the First Amendment as well. The taxpayers are supporting the churches, whether they want to or not.

Unusual Suspect

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 4:13 p.m.

Only in the mind of a liberal is a tax-exemption a transfer of money form the government to the people. In their minds, your money is not yours, it's theirs, and so when you keep more of it (e.g, claiming a deduction), you are taking money from the government and the rest of the people.


Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 1 a.m.

"...The taxpayers are supporting the churches, whether they want to or not..." What church is receiving taxpayer/government assistance? THAT is unconstitutional.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 11:23 p.m.

"So charitable deductions should not be allowed ?" When a church starts becoming a POLITICAL speech it is no longer a charity. I can not give to the Obama campaign and write it off my taxes. Imagine a church being allowed to skirt the system and taking in huge bribes to god and then the money being used to do politics If the church wants to be political, they can pay the same taxes everybody else does. Including sales and property taxes.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 10:06 p.m.

tdw, no one is suggesting that charitable contributions not be allowed, they are simply suggesting that the State stop establishing religion by forcing taxpayers to subsidize religious practices as they currently are. There is no legal justification for churches being tax-exempt.

greg, too

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:39 p.m.

@redwingshero you are assuming that abortion, equal rights, etc. are political issues. Some may consider them legal issues or moral issues. All depends on your worldview and presuppositions. To most, they are political and/or legal topics...I consider abortion and equal rights to be political issues because they are all matters of the interpretation of codified US law. To the religious, they can be seen as faith based or moral topics. This is the gray area that the IRS hates.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:27 p.m.

@greg,too- you are assuming that abortion, equal rights, etc. are political issues. Some may consider them legal issues or moral issues. All depends on your worldview and presuppositions.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:13 p.m.

So charitable deductions should not be allowed ?

greg, too

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:12 p.m.

Taxpayers also support them based on the fact that the church, and it's routinely used land owned by the church, does not pay property tax. The larger the church, the more land it takes up, the more it hurts the tax rolls. The pastor can say whatever he wants when he is not in the church or acting as a church official. That is his protected right. But at the pulpit, he technically cannot preach on political topics. But this is a gray area as most political topics (abortion, divorce, equal rights) can be spoken about if they are covered in a discussion of their faith. This work around usually keeps the IRS at bay as I highly doubt the IRS wants to get into a PR battle with churches over this.

Macabre Sunset

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:05 p.m.

I'm aware. And tithes are tax-deductible, when really they are parishioners purchasing a service. That commercial transaction should not be exempt from taxation. Nor should a church be treated differently from any other business.


Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 7:53 p.m.

How do you figure tax payers are supporting churches ? You may not be aware of this but there is this thing called tihes ( ? ) and offerings.

Ghost of Tom Joad

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

no. Just no. You are not the one being persecuted here, sir. If you want to enter the political fray to the extent that you're trying, you need to pay taxes like every other business out there.

Angry Moderate

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:37 p.m.

The law this article is talking about is not part of the tax code. It has nothing to do with tax law. It's about election law.

Angry Moderate

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

Greg, that is a FEDERAL law. This article is about a STATE law. They are not the same thing. The Michigan Election Law has nothing to do with the IRS, which is a federal agency.

greg, too

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 8:28 a.m.

Angry Moderate, here it is from the IRS. "Section 501(c)(3) organizations are restricted in how much political and legislative (lobbying) activities they may conduct." It then gets into legal wrangling, as all governmental things do.

Angry Moderate

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 6:56 a.m.

The statute the article links to says that it's a misdemeanor, meaning potential jail time. I don't see anything that limits this law to tax-exempt organizations.

5c0++ H4d13y

Fri, Nov 16, 2012 : 12:49 a.m.

But then we are told businesses shouldn't have free speech.

greg, too

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:34 p.m.

The only thing that would stop him from speaking politically from the pulpit or with his parishioners is the fear of losing his tax exempt status.

Angry Moderate

Thu, Nov 15, 2012 : 9:02 p.m.

The article doesn't say that this is only for non-profits. It says ANY pastor. Are you sure that paying taxes would exept them?