Federal marshals seized the Indianapolis Baptist Temple on Tuesday to satisfy a $6 million tax debt.
"The purge has started," said the Rev. Greg J. Dixon, the church's pastor emeritus, as the marshals wheeled him and four other church supporters out of the building on gurneys.
"We had a promise from the Bush administration. We had every reason to believe there was a moratorium. ... They were going to dismiss the case. We had a deal, and they welshed on the deal," Dixon said.
The U.S. Supreme Court had cleared the way for the seizure last month.
The Baptist Temple stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from its employees' paychecks in 1984, saying the church's duty to obey God allowed no room for manmade laws and that withholding taxes would make it an agent of the government.
About a half-dozen church members and supporters were inside the southside church when the federal marshals arrived, according to free-lance photographer Seth Rossman, who also was in the building with two other photographers and a reporter.
U.S. Marshal Frank Anderson approached the glass front doors and read his order for those inside the church to leave. The elder Dixon and the others moved back into the sanctuary, then got down on their knees and faced the altar in prayer, Rossman said.
The officers entered the sanctuary through a side door, Anderson identified himself and the agents as U.S. marshals and said: "You are ordered to leave the building. Anybody that doesn't leave, we'll have to take further action."
Dixon started praying out loud as the journalists were escored out of the church.
"I can say personally, this has been as difficult a task as I've had in my 37 years of law enforcement," Anderson said.
Those taken from the church offered no resistance and no one was hurt.
"We made no arrests," Anderson said. "We did not charge the doors and things of that sort. ... This was a civil action and we treated in in a civil manner."
"We waited 91 days for the safest and most opportune moment to act. We didn't want anyone from our side or the other side to get hurt."
In September, U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans Barker authorized marshals to seize the property, by force if necessary. A parsonage a few miles from the church was seized on Nov. 14.
The federal government until now had never 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 has said.
Dixon's son and the current pastor, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, was nov iu the church when marshals first arrived. He rushed to the scene and sat down in front of the church as the seizure was begining.
"The fight is still not over," the younger Dixon said. "We are going to continue this fight for religious liberty.
"They have trampled the First Amendment; they have desecrated a house of God," he said. "They have brought God's judgment down upon them, their souls, their wives, their children, their political careers. I feel sorry for them."
Indianapolis police had blocked off streets in a two-block radius around the church and allowed no one to enter the church. About 50 supporters stood outside the barricades after the seizure.
"I think it is terrible. I think the lord will come after them," said Thelma VanHook, 82, a member of the church for 47 years. "This is just a building, but we worshiped God in that building. This should never have happened."
The younger Dixon said he pulled up and tried to get past roadblocks, then asked to see Anderson and was escorted inside. He came out later with his father and also criticized the Bush administration.
"There is no doubt that they did know what was happening. There is no doubt they knew what was happening today," 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."
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