|IRS Church Seizure Sparks Fears|
|By Rex W. Huppke, 2000-12-10|
Behind a line of run-down strip malls stands the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, its furniture and finery stripped away as if to make room for the resolve of the people who remain inside.
In the echoing emptiness, the sound of hymns mingles with talk of government conspiracies, religious persecution and the belief that it may be the first church the federal government takes by storm over a tax debt. The first, supporters fear, of many.
To the Internal Revenue Service the Indianapolis Baptist Temple is simply a building waiting to be seized to make up for $6 million in back taxes.
But for the congregation's supporters across the country, including numerous right-wing groups that share some of the church's ideology, the impending seizure is the fulfillment of long-held fears that the government is out to silence its critics and control what preachers say from the pulpit.
"If we lose," says pastor emeritus Greg Dixon, "it will mean that we no longer have religious liberty in America."
The church stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from its employees' paychecks in 1984, saying payment would make the church an agent of the government.
Dixon says his is a New Testament Church, an independent congregation governed only by God's law and thus not subject to any form of taxation. He also believes taxing a church is a violation of the First Amendment separation of church and state, and he refuses to register for tax-exempt status.
Registered churches are exempt from certain taxes, but still must pay employee withholding taxes.
The dispute came to a head Sept. 28 when U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker ordered the property seized. The case is being appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but since Nov. 14 federal marshals have been authorized to seize the church property, by force if necessary.
Marshals haven't said when they will seize the property. Because the case has been appealed, Justice Department officials declined to comment.
The church has about 1,000 members, and 20 or so at a time maintain a 24-hour vigil behind locked glass doors. They say they'll wait peacefully, allowing the marshals to shatter the front doors if necessary and carry each of them out.
"This world is looking for somebody that will be steadfast," Dixon's son, Greg A. Dixon, the current pastor, exclaimed during a recent Sunday service. "This world is looking for somebody who will finally say no to the federal government: `We've had enough. Do what you want to do. We're going to do what God has told us to do.'"
The elder Dixon has spoken out against the IRS and the taxation of churches for years.
Once the national secretary of Jerry Falwell's now-defunct Moral Majority, Dixon has walked in extremist circles. He spoke at a 1992 meeting in Estes Park, Colo., that attracted more than 150 white supremacists and tax protesters. That put the Baptist Temple on the Southern Poverty Law Center's list of Patriot groups that adhere to anti-government doctrines.
Patriot Movement leader James "Bo" Gritz recently broadcast his syndicated radio talk show from the church, and numerous militia leaders have come to show support.
The Dixons say their beliefs are based on Scripture, and they deny links to hate groups or extremists.
"``Liberty has strange bedfellows," the younger Dixon says. "If your only friends are those that you agree 100 percent with, you're not going to have many friends."
U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson and the Dixons have agreed that, when the time comes, the church should be taken peacefully.
Still, the very act of the government seizing a church over a tax debt is "an extraordinary event unparalleled in American history" that could have a ripple effect, says attorney Richard Hammar, a prominent specialist in church and tax law.
"I'd say there are just literally thousands of New Testament Churches that will all be threatened if this happens," Baptist Temple attorney Al Cunningham says.
Seeing federal marshals carry a preacher through a broken-down church door, one expert says, is likely to reinforce many anti-government groups' paranoid beliefs.
From the website of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple at http://www.indianapolisbaptisttemple.com:
Indianapolis Baptist Temple is under siege by United States Marshals and "SOG", (a special operations group, specially trained to respond to emergency and high risk situations, including hostage and anti-terrorist activities) to evict the congregation of the Church from the sanctuary of the Church, which is the sacred sanctuary of God, to enforce a court order which is unconstitutional on its face ordering the Church properties to be sold to pay taxes assessed by the Internal Revenue Service, while the judgment of the court ordering the Church to pay taxes is not a final judgment.
The issue is not taxes. Individual ministers laboring in the ministries of Indianapolis Baptist Temple paid the taxes assessed to the Church as self-employment taxes. After an audit of individual ministers, the Internal Revenue Service returned taxes paid as self-employment taxes to the ministers saying that the taxes should have been paid by Indianapolis Baptist Temple.
The issue is Religious Liberty. The very foundational purpose for which the religious liberty clauses of the First Amendment were established is at risk. This issue goes to the very essence of the religious liberty clauses. A free church is the root of a free society; a controlled church is the root of a controlled society. The issue is the right of the New Testament Church to exist in America.
The issue is control. The federal government is attempting to control Indianapolis Baptist Temple by imposing a Church polity for the New Testament Churches and their ministries which is repugnant to their faith. By the power of taxation, the federal government is attempting to establish a registered state-church for the nation. The federal government must be stopped. The religious liberties of every church and person in the United States of America are at risk.
- Terry Horne, 2001-01-17: The end may be near
- Reuters: 2001-02-13: Federal Agents Seize Church for Back Taxes (also here)
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