Funny thing about “moral high-ground” types — they tend to get real firm in their beliefs when money’s involved. That was true of Cliven Bundy, when he didn’t want to pay his grazing fees. It was true of Hobby Lobby, when they invoked religion as a defense to get out of medical coverage. And as ants walk in a line on the trail of sugar, so lower-ranking “people of morals” follow the sweet trail of justification up Capital Hill.
About 20 years ago, Oregon resident Pastor of Hope Covenant Reformed Church Ronald (and his wife Dorothea) Joling decided to stop paying taxes. Not to keep the money, of course; just because they’d had an epiphany that the 16th Amendment on income taxation “doesn’t count.” They, like many of their Sovereign Citizens friends, and Cliven Bundy, have a “Christian belief” that the government does not have the power to collect money from people.
Of course, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1 of the Constitution would probably beg to differ. As would the existence of Congress, and George Washington’s very first act upon taking office — taxation of whiskey to pay for the Revolutionary War. But, regardless.
The couple went to some pretty extraordinary lengths to hide the $1.1 MILLION DOLLARS they owe in tax money. They set up multiple trusts which they used to shift property back and forth. They deposited $110,000 in a “warehouse bank,” filed false tax returns and bankruptcy papers, and “besieged” the IRS with nonsense paperwork just to harass tax officials.
One of them was a 2009 copyright on his and and his wife’s names, to prevent government officials from using their names (or more than 60 variations of each) to “profit or gain from [his] loss by trickery, deceit or witchcraft.”
OK, we added that last one.
And Pastor Joling’s defense? According to his lawyer, the Pastor read in the Good Book somewhere that he shouldn’t have to pay his taxes. Also, having been influenced by the Sovereign Citizens‘ cult (America’s No. 1 terrorist threat), he sincerely believed he was in the right. According to his attorney, the Pastor “clings stubbornly” to the belief that he’s engaged in a fact with a federal government that is inherently evil. Said attorney Mark Weintraub:
“They were wrong. But they didn’t just make this up on their own.” He then called his client’s actions “totally wrong and unreasonable,” and said it was a “completely crazy way of thinking.” But, he asked jurors to acquit him because he didn’t knowingly break the law. At least as he saw it.
Mrs. Joling’s attorney says her client believes “God speaks to her through her husband,” and that she’s innocent because she was only obediently doing her husband’s will. So, she shouldn’t be held criminally liable for tax evasion, either.
Effectively, the argument is this:
The law shouldn’t apply because of our clients’ supposed religious beliefs.
But, unfortunately, here in Muggle Land…magic thinking doesn’t get you out of prison. That certainly has been the case with the couple’s advisers, including their own daughter, who have themselves been convicted of tax evasion. But, still, the attorneys would like their clients acquitted, on the basis that they really, really thought you didn’t have to obey a law if you didn’t like it.
The couple is now in court on their 2011 arrest. Assistant U.S. Attorney Chris Cardani told the jurors:
“We will show you they knew the law, and they just didn’t want to pay their fair share.”
Looks like it’s time to render unto Caesar.