- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

Federal marshals in Indiana yesterday morning seized Indianapolis Baptist Temple, peacefully removing a pastor and believers who for three months staged a protest over a $6 million tax penalty.

"A lot of patience, consideration and planning has led to this moment," U.S. Marshal Frank J. Anderson said during the four-hour operation begun at 8:20 a.m. "We've waited 91 days for the safest and most opportune moment to act."

After surveying the 22-acre property, marshals in wind breakers and khakis snapped the lock on a side door and entered to find the Rev. Greg J. Dixon and a few other church members kneeling before the altar.

Mr. Anderson kneeled by the pastor and said, "It's time."

The action is thought to be the first case of an Internal Revenue Service seizure of church property, though historians of the Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, recount a government seizure of church property in the late 19th century.

Since 1984, the Baptist Temple has claimed that as a matter of First Amendment religious liberty, the church does not have to follow IRS requirements to report or withhold revenue for its ministry workers.

Mr. Dixon, who in 1983 testified on Capitol Hill about religious freedom, decided the following year 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. Those workers and others paid their own income taxes, the church said.

Yesterday, five church members did not want to walk out, so they voluntarily climbed on gurneys, and the marshals rolled them out. The marshals waited for Mr. Dixon's son, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, to arrive to walk out beside his father.

"The purge has started," the senior Mr. Dixon said as reporters looked on.

Reached a few hours later by telephone, Mr. Dixon said the "raid" came after about 30 church members who had stayed at the church overnight left for work.

Mr. Dixon said church attorneys had talked to campaign officials of George W. Bush who agreed to "try to solve the case politically, but at least to call us one way or the other."

Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker yesterday denied the claim. The case was avoidable, she said, only "if they paid their taxes."

People from the 1,000-member church have met there daily and on Sunday but now will gather at Manual High School nearby.

A representative for the court-appointed receiver, Olympia Partners, yesterday was inside the church. The property presumably will be auctioned to pay the IRS bill.

The church parsonage was seized Nov. 14, and Mr. Dixon had been living at the church and his son's home since then. The marshals had planned to seize the church the same day as the parsonage a few miles away but held back when church members began holding vigil inside.

Other Christians from around the country arrived to show support and draw media attention, but Mr. Dixon and church attorneys asked anti-government militia who had offered to help to stay away.

The U.S. Marshals lauded that action and said in a statement yesterday:

"It was the presence of these potentially armed militia and their veiled threats that required marshals to move with the utmost caution in what otherwise would be a civil enforcement action."

The U.S. Supreme Court denied a final church appeal last month.

The U.S. Marshals said they acted under the November court order of U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker that they could use force "as necessary" to enter the building if the eviction order was not followed.

The IRS began by suing Mr. Dixon for about $56,453 in personal income taxes due from 1984 to 1987, and then in 1994 put tax liens on the church properties for $3.6 million in unpaid federal withholding tax for 1987 to 1993.

The assessment, with interest and penalties, grew to $5,066,969 on the church and $103,414 against Mr. Dixon.

Mr. Dixon said yesterday that the IRS still is suing him for the $103,414, and that he goes on trial Oct. 2. "They've been going after me for 17 years. It's retribution," he said. "My crime is preaching against the IRS."

Federal officials said yesterday Mr. Dixon faces no criminal charges.

The pastor has said that he and many fundamentalist clergy believe that under the U.S. Constitution they are allowed to give total loyalty to God and avoid all entanglement with government, especially the IRS.

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