Indiana church seized for back taxes
INDIANAPOLIS, Indiana (CNN) -- Federal marshals seized an Indianapolis church Tuesday, carrying out a judge's order to confiscate the property because of $6 million in years of back taxes and penalties.
Dozens of marshals swarmed the Indianapolis Baptist Temple around 8:30 a.m. (9:30 a.m. ET) and a helicopter hovered overhead during the peaceful seizure.
The Rev. Greg Dixon was holding a prayer service with about five members of the congregation -- including some who had been holding a vigil for nearly three months -- when the raid began.
Dixon and the others refused to walk away from the church, so the officers carried them out on stretchers.
"The purge has started," said Dixon, the church's founder, as he was wheeled away on a gurney. "Forgive them, oh God, for what they have done today."
Dixon, who in the 1980s began the church's fight with the Internal Revenue Service, placed blame on the Bush administration, which he said had agreed to "dismiss the case. We had a deal."
U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker in Indianapolis ordered the confiscation because the church owes $6 million in taxes, penalties and interest for its failure to withhold employee income taxes, Social Security taxes and Medicare taxes.
She had ordered the church to vacate its 22-acre campus by Nov. 14, 2000. In the following months, federal officials met with church leaders about trying to resolve the situation as peacefully as possible. The church has about 2,000 members.
A recent message on the church's Web site said the church appreciated the "great patience and restraint" of the federal marshals and disavowed "unsolicited actions" proposed by regional militia groups.
The Supreme Court denied a final appeal by the church last month, clearing the way for Tuesday's raid.
"A lot of patience, consideration and planning has led to this moment," said U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson, who led the raid.
Church officials said they don't pay taxes and, thus, cannot be regulated by the federal government. They claim church workers pay taxes on their own.
The church was expected to be cleared of demonstrators and turned over to the IRS Tuesday afternoon.
As news of the raid spread, dozens of congregation members, many crying and holding hands, gathered outside the sealed off perimeter of the church.
"This is a great, devastating blow to religious freedom in America," said one church member. "Our children and grandchildren will never know the same religious freedom that we've known."
Added another, "They stole this church. I stood with them for 92 days. I just don't want it to happen in this country."
Rev. Greg Dixon Jr., who was taking his daughter to school when he learned of the raid, said the church is still "unified preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. ... Our building has been seized and we've been kicked out. Jesus Christ is still Lord."
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