updated 12/11/2008 6:43:22 PM ET 2008-12-11T23:43:22

A community activist who ran for Congress from prison, where he had been sent for warning that a judge could be tortured by God, can post bond while he appeals his conviction, an appeals court has ruled.

After being convicted and sentenced to probation in 2007 for paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor recall election, Edward Pinkney wrote an article in a small Chicago newspaper saying the judge who handled the case could be punished by God with curses, fever and "extreme burning" unless he changed his ways.

Another judge considered the article a threat and sentenced Pinkney to three to 10 years in prison for violating his probation. Pinkney, who says he's a Baptist minister, and his attorneys say he was only paraphrasing some Bible verses from the book of Deuteronomy.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed an appeal, saying his comments were protected under the First Amendment and that he was wrongly imprisoned. It also urged the Michigan Court of Appeals to release Pinkney on bond while the court considers the appeal of his sentence.

Decision on appeal expected in 2009
On Wednesday, the court granted the group's request that Pinkney be freed on bond during his appeal and directed the Berrien County Circuit Court to set the bond amount. A spokeswoman for the lower court said Thursday it had not yet received a copy of the decision, so no bond amount had been set.

The appeals court is expected to decide the merits of the appeal in 2009.

"We are thrilled that Rev. Edward Pinkney will be home with his family celebrating Christmas instead of sitting in prison for criticizing a judge," Michigan ACLU legal director Michael J. Steinberg said in a written statement. "The court properly recognized that serious constitutional questions are raised when a minister is thrown in prison for predicting what God might do."

Pinkney, 60, of Benton Harbor, was in prison when he unsuccessfully challenged U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., as a Green Party candidate last month. Pinkney received about 1 percent of the vote.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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