The American Civil Liberties Union is taking up the case of a southwestern Michigan minister who was sent to prison for warning that a judge could be tortured by God.

The ACLU said it asked the state appeals court Wednesday to release the Rev. Edward Pinkney on bail while he appeals a probation violation. Lawyers claim his free-speech rights were trampled in Berrien County.

In 2007, Pinkney, 60, was convicted of paying people to vote in a Benton Harbor election.

Months later, he wrote an article in a Chicago newspaper, People's Tribune, saying the judge who handled his case, Alfred Butzbaugh, could be punished by God with curses, fever and "extreme burning" unless he changed his ways.

In June 2008, another Berrien County judge, Dennis Wiley, sent Pinkney to prison for three to 10 years after finding that he had violated his probation by making a threat against the judge.

"Those are words that would ... put the fear of God into anybody, as a threat that this could happen to them if they do not do what Mr. Pinkney wants him to do, whatever that might be," Wiley said, according to a transcript.

"To our knowledge, this case marks the first time in modern history that a preacher has been imprisoned for predicting what God might do," said Michael Steinberg, legal director for the ACLU in Michigan.

Pinkney is in a state prison in the Upper Peninsula, roughly 600 miles from his home. While incarcerated, he received 3,500 votes as the Green Party candidate for Congress in Michigan's 6th District.