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IRS Ready to Seize Delinquent Church

Taxes: Pastor had defied agency, refusing to pay $6-million debt. Rehnquist denies request for stay, removing last barrier before confiscation.

November 14, 2000|From Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — A pastor who challenged the authority of the Internal Revenue Service braced along with his congregation for the seizure of their Baptist church today for refusal to pay a $6-million tax debt.

Experts have said they believe the case is the first in which the federal government has confiscated a church in a tax dispute.

Last month, a federal judge ordered the Rev. Greg A. Dixon and the 1,500-member Indianapolis Baptist Temple to vacate its church, school and parsonages by noon today to satisfy the tax lien, which consists of back taxes, penalties and interest.

The independent Baptist church stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from the paychecks of its employees in 1984, saying its duty to obey God prevailed over society's laws, and that withholding taxes would make it an agent of the government. Dixon said the employees have paid their own taxes.

"We're not saying people shouldn't pay taxes," Dixon said. "We're just saying it's not the church's responsibility."

On Monday, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist of the U.S. Supreme Court denied the Baptist Temple's request for a stay. That left no legal barriers to prevent federal marshals from taking possession of the church.

Dixon said church members and supporters planned to stay in the church overnight, and others were expected to join them this morning. A prayer service was scheduled for an hour before the deadline to vacate the property.

The preacher has vowed to respond with passive resistance and has urged supporters--including right-wing militia members--not to resort to violence. Other churches have offered to play host to his congregation's services, he said.

"They can't shut the church," Dixon said.

U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson said he hopes today's events are peaceful. "It appears that they're going to be law-abiding citizens and abide by the court order," he said.

"These walls are very dear to my heart," said 71-year-old Bill Thornburg, a church deacon. His three daughters graduated from the church school, and one of them got married at the church.

Shirley Ward, 44, was wrapping and packing things into boxes. Her 16-year-old daughter, Rachel, a junior in the church school, was wheeling a cart loaded with boxes.

"All I know is whatever happens, it's God's will," Rachel said.

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