Monday, December 11, 2000

Indianapolis church battles IRS

The Associated Press

        INDIANAPOLIS — Behind a line of run-down strip malls stands the Indianapolis Baptist Temple, its furniture and finery stripped away.

        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.

        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.

        Pastor emeritus Greg 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.

        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.


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