Marshals Seize Indiana Church

Tuesday, February 13th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — A church that challenged the authority of the IRS was seized by the government Tuesday to satisfy a $6 million tax debt, with federal marshals wheeling the former pastor out on a gurney as he prayed in protest.

``I pray for you that God will forgive you!'' shouted the Rev. Greg J. Dixon, pastor emeritus of the Indianapolis Baptist Temple. ``Welcome to communism, America!''

It is believed to be the first time the federal government has ever seized a church in a tax dispute.

The move peacefully ended a 91-day vigil that had drawn the attention of constitutional scholars and right-wing militia members.

Five church members were inside when 85 federal marshals arrived, supported by 70 city police officers. No one was hurt or arrested, though some church supporters had to be carried out, among them Dixon, who was strapped to a gurney and wheeled out into the street.

``David got Goliath,'' church member Susie Wallen said. ``But if our Goliath had bullets, we could've whipped their butts.''

The dispute began when the Baptist Temple stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from employee paychecks in 1984. Dixon said his unregistered New Testament Church was governed only by God's law and was not subject to taxation.

Registered churches are exempt from certain taxes but still must pay employee withholding taxes.

Dixon refused even to apply for tax-exempt status, saying taxing any church violates the First Amendment separation of church and state.

Sixteen years of court battles came to a head in September when a federal judge authorized marshals to seize the property — a ruling upheld last month by the Supreme Court.

Hundreds of supporters, including anti-government activists and militia leaders, traveled to the church to protest.

But U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson of Indianapolis, a former Baptist deacon, bided his time rather than seizing the church right away. And interest from anti-government groups dwindled as Dixon spoke out against violence.

When the church finally was taken Tuesday morning, only Dixon and four parishioners, kneeling in prayer on the steps of the altar, and four members of the media were inside.

The 22-acre property near downtown Indianapolis will be sold to help satisfy the debt.

``I can say personally, this has been as difficult a task as I've had in my 37 years of law enforcement,'' Anderson said. ``I can understand the emotion that is involved. At the same time, I have a mission that I have to do.''

The federal government has never before seized a church for failing to pay taxes, said Richard Hammar, an attorney for the Springfield, Mo.-based Assemblies of God church and an expert on churches and tax law.

``To have the IRS come in and seize the church's property, that is an extraordinary event unparalleled in American history,'' Hammar said.

The current pastor, Dixon's son, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, said: ``I think it is amazing that the Bush administration, that claims to be so Christian, has just trampled a church. They are certainly not a friend of Christ and they're certainly not doing the right thing.''

The Dixons warned that other independent churches across the country may suffer a similar fate.

``The purge is on,'' the elder Dixon said.


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