ANN ARBOR, MI — Without a warrant or other legal authorization, uniformed police officers conducted several raids on Faith Baptist Church in Waterford Township, Michigan, and threatened to prosecute several young Christian musicians for disorderly conduct – because the Township prosecutor objected to the playing of contemporary religious music. “Praise and worship” music is a central part of Faith Baptist’s religious services.
The Thomas More Law Center, a national public interest law firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, filed a federal lawsuit on Monday against the Waterford Township supervisor, prosecutor and two high ranking police officials. The lawsuit was prompted by the series of police incursions into the church and threats by the Township prosecutor to raid the church every time music was heard coming from it.
Richard Thompson, President and Chief Counsel of the Law Center, observed, “Uniformed police officers entering a church during religious services and young church members being threatened with prosecution is something that happens in Communist China – not in America.”
Continued Thompson, “It is clear that Waterford Township authorities targeted Faith Baptist Church because of the type of religious music it uses in its services. Some of the individual police officers involved in the raids – apparently more sensitive to the constitutional protections surrounding religion than were their superiors – personally apologized afterwards.”
Faith Baptist Church, headed by Pastor Jim Combs, has a congregation of 10,000 members and conducts religious services on three different campuses. The police raids targeted the Waterford Township campus with 5,000 members.
Pastor Jim Combs first contacted the Thomas More Law Center in late October 2007, after the first in a series of police raids.
During a Wednesday night youth service, uniformed Township police, led by the Township prosecutor, burst into the Church’s sanctuary where the Church’s “Praise and Worship” band was warming up. The prosecutor ordered the officers to take the names and addresses of all the young people on stage so that they could be charged with “disorderly conduct.”
The very next Sunday, Waterford Township police again raided Faith Baptist, this time during the Pastor Comb’s evening sermon. Officers were about to disrupt the services and remove the “Praise and Worship” band members and order them to surrender their driver’s licenses for personal information. However, an Assistant Pastor volunteered to bring the members to the police so as not to create an uproar among the congregation.
The Township prosecutor was caught conducting personal surveillance on the Church from his parked car just days later.
The lawsuit, filed Monday, alleges that Waterford Township officials violated Faith Baptist Church’s and the band members’ rights to Free Exercise of religion, Free Speech and Freedom of Association under both the Michigan and the United States Constitutions, and that Waterford Township’s actions have chilled Plaintiffs’ ability to worship according to their religious beliefs. Plaintiffs are asking the court to permanently prohibit further police raids and for monetary damages.
Brandon Bolling, the Law Center attorney handling the case, stated, “The Township prosecutor was very explicit: he told the pastors that churches should not play ‘rock music,’ and threatened that each time he heard music coming from the church he would conduct a raid.”
The Thomas More Law Center defends and promotes the religious freedom of Christians, time-honored family values, and the sanctity of human life through education, litigation, and related activities. It does not charge for its services. The Law Center is supported by contributions from individuals, corporations and foundations, and is recognized by the IRS as a section 501(c)(3) organization. You may reach the Thomas More Law Center at (734) 827-2001 or visit our website at www.thomasmore.org.