Americans United And Triangle Foundation Ask Irs To Investigate Michigan Church That Endorsed School Board Candidates

Pastor's Endorsement Letter Is A Clear Violation Of Federal Tax Law, Groups Say

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, a national church-state watchdog group based in Washington, D.C., and the Michigan-based Triangle Foundation today asked the Internal Revenue Service to investigate a Michigan church whose pastor endorsed two school board candidates in a recent race.

The groups say Pastor Jim Combs of Faith Baptist Church in Waterford Township violated the IRS Code when he issued a missive on church letterhead to parishioners asking them to support two school board candidates, one of whom is his own son.

The undated letter criticizes three board incumbents, implying that they have not exercised proper financial stewardship over the schools. It also accuses schools of "promoting tolerance for homosexuals."  It goes on to endorse two challengers.

"In this battle for our schools, I am publicly and strongly supporting two men from our church who have followed the call of God to run for the Waterford School Board," wrote Combs. "The first is Michael Nolan, a man of integrity and moral conviction. Mike has a Masters Degree in Business, and would improve the financial integrity of the Waterford School Board. The other candidate I am supporting is my son, Joshua, who recently graduated from college with his Bachelors. He and his wife, Jennifer, have sincerely dedicated themselves to the children of our community and wish to further their commitment through service to our schools."

The letter concludes, "The importance of this election cannot be overstated....[R]emember to encourage your neighbors and friends to vote for Michael Nolan and Joshua Combs."

Americans United and the Triangle Foundation assert in a letter to the IRS sent June 15 that Combs clearly crossed the line into forbidden intervention in a political campaign.

"This is a blatant violation of federal tax law," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "It's an open-and-shut case. Pastor Combs has violated the law and should pay the penalty."

"The letter is not only anti-gay and offensive, but Pastor Combs broke the law and should be punished accordingly " said Sean Kosofsky, Triangle Foundation's Director of Policy. "If the IRS lets this church get away with breaking the law, then the IRS rules are meaningless. Charitable organizations should not try to influence elections."

Combs was apparently motivated to intervene in the election after being told by school officials that he could no longer visit with schoolchildren during lunch hour. In his letter, he lashes out at public education, writing, "In 1963 public education was given over to liberal special interest groups to the great enjoyment of our enemy Satan."

Later in the letter, he urges church members to get involved in the election, writing, "I believe that the 'sleeping giant', known as the body of Christ, the church must wake up and reclaim the Waterford Schools for the glory of God."

The IRS Code forbids tax-exempt, non-profit groups, including houses of worship, from intervening in political campaigns by endorsing or opposing candidates. Penalties for violating the standard can include revocation of tax-exempt status.

In 1995, the IRS revoked the tax-exempt status of the Church at Pierce Creek, a New York congregation that in October of 1992 placed newspaper ads telling Christians that voting for Bill Clinton was a sin. The church sued to get the exemption back but lost the case.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

The Triangle Foundation is Michigan's leading civil rights organization in Michigan for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.