- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2000

U.S. marshals armed with a court order waited yesterday to seize Indianapolis Baptist Temple, whose 16-year fight with the Internal Revenue Service has led to the first known case of church confiscation.

The parsonage, or pastor's house, was seized yesterday in the $6 million dispute with the IRS. But by midevening, the marshals had not evicted hundreds of worshippers from the church and school complex, despite the court's noon deadline.

"The marshals didn't come at noon, so we've been having wall-to-wall preaching," the Rev. Greg Dixon, pastor emeritus, said in a late-afternoon phone interview. "They secured our home today."

The marshals' office did not return phone calls, but late in the day U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson told the Associated Press: "We don't want any type of confrontation. We want to resolve this in a peaceful manner."

The church, whose membership has grown to 1,000, refused to file employment or tax-exemption papers with the IRS.

Church officials said members would be peaceful but not just walk away. "Our God tells us just to be here," said Mr. Dixon, 67, whose son now is pastor.

After years of appeals that reached two Supreme Court justices, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans on Sept. 28 ordered the surrender of the church, school and parsonage.

In 1984, the church decided that under the U.S. Constitution its loyalty to God gave it exemption from government reporting, which some fundamentalist theologians see as part of a world government restricting believers.

In 1982, a new tax law required that all groups with employees withhold payroll taxes or be penalized.

Mr. Dixon, who in 1983 testified on Capitol Hill about religious freedom, decided to stop withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from employee paychecks at the 50-year-old church.

The church called the money paid to 45 regular workers "faith offerings," an amount that fluctuated with church giving and annual budgets.

Mr. Dixon said his church has been singled out to warn other churches to cooperate with the IRS.

"If it's a money issue, why does the IRS forgive corporate taxes and President Clinton forgive the debt of Third World nations?" he asked. "Now, they shut down a church."

He said church members pay their own income taxes, and that the private church school saves money for public education.

The IRS sued the church for $200,000 not withheld from 1987 to 1993, and penalties and interest pushed the total to $6 million.

While the courts have ruled previously against religious organizations on payroll matters, this is the first time in memory church property has been confiscated, said Carl Esbeck, director of the Center for Law and Religious Freedom.

"I suspect all the appeals are exhausted," Mr. Esbeck said.

He noted two cases where payroll matters put tax restrictions on churches.

A 1985 ruling on the Tony Alamo ministry, which had volunteer workers, required that it pay and withhold taxes, according to wage laws.

In a 1989 Mormon case, the court said money donated to the church by a parent, to be paid to a son on missionary duty, is a salary and cannot be deducted as a charitable donation.

Al Cunningham, lawyer for Indianapolis Baptist Temple, said the Justice Department appealed for a compromise yesterday, but that "no compromise is possible."

"It's a wake-up call for all the churches of America," Mr. Cunningham said. "As Indianapolis goes, all the churches go."

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