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A scandal involving a former Michigan politician is quickly turning into a major story.

On the one hand, you have the state’s former House Speaker, 33-year-old Republican Lee Chatfield, who admitted yesterday that he had a long-term affair with a “consenting adult.”

On the other hand, you have that “consenting adult,” a woman now in her late-20s, who says it was actually sexual assault that began…

(1) when she was 15.

(2) when they were both members of the church run by Chatfield’s father.

(3) when Chatfield worked at the school she was attending.

Chatfield used to attend Northern Michigan Baptist Bible Church (pastored by his father Rusty Chatfield) and taught at the church-affiliated Northern Michigan Christian Academy School, where he also served as a soccer coach and athletic director. The unnamed victim was also part of that church community.

Chatfield’s political history

In 2014, Chatfield dove into politics and had immediate success, pulling off a primary upset in his district, unseating an incumbent, and winning the first of three elections for his seat in the State House. In 2019, at age 30, he became the youngest Michigan House Speaker in over a century before leaving office at the end of 2020 having been term-limited out. It was a stellar résumé for anyone, especially someone who may have had aspirations for higher office.

But that sort of prominence in the Republican Party doesn’t come without serious concerns. Like the time Chatfield was arrested in 2018 for carrying a loaded unregistered gun in his carry-on bag at an airport… or the fact that he unseated that incumbent in 2014 by trashing him for supporting LGBTQ rights legislation.

The Detroit News notes that Chatfield’s opposition to that civil rights bill cost him a post-politics gig as CEO of Southwest Michigan First, an economic development group. After he was announced in that role, there was incredible (and predictable) backlash from people who didn’t want a bigot in the role of leading a pro-business group. In his resignation letter, Chatfield defended his earlier bigotry by saying, “As a Christian, I believe the Bible. I don’t want to hide from that.”

Whenever someone uses the Bible as an excuse for being a monster, you know there’s more to come.

The allegations against Lee Chatfield

And that brings us to the allegation made by his 27-year-old sister-in-law — now his brother’s wife — in a complaint filed last month with the Lansing Police Department. The complaint says that Chatfield sexually abused the victim beginning when she was only 15 — which is below the legal age of consent in the state. In fact, state law makes clear that the age of consent jumps to 18 if the predator and victim are teacher and student at the same school.

What Chatfield is now calling an “affair” continued for well over a decade — including on the woman’s wedding night.

[The victim’s lawyer Jamie] White denied there was anything “consensual” about the relationship. Chatfield, White said, took advantage of the woman when she would come over to watch his kids, “manipulated her through the church,” took advantage of her while she was “vulnerable,” and assaulted the woman “in a closet on her wedding night.” 

Chatfield’s lawyer insists there’s nothing abusive here at all because the “consensual affair” began after the victim was 18. If that’s true, Chatfield might avoid legal problems, but it would still imply that the best-case scenario for this Bible-believing Chatfield is admitting that he carried on a years-long affair with his brother’s wife.

In case you’re wondering how an allegedly abusive relationship could’ve possibly carried on for 12 years if it wasn’t consensual, keep in mind that there are plenty of victims who have stayed in marriages or relationships out of fear of what the other person might do if they don’t give in. (That’s especially true when one person has more power than the other or religion comes into play.)

For now, both local and state police say they are investigating the matter.

(Screenshot via YouTube)

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.