The U.S. government seized a church in Indianapolis this week.

Sadly, most Americans watched this event on television — witnessing a pastor being forcibly removed from his church and its property turned over to the Internal Revenue Service — and collectively yawned.

“Ho hum,” they said. “Must be one of those nasty, dangerous tax protesters. I’m sure the government wouldn’t take away a church from its flock without good reason.”

And most Americans would be dead wrong.

The Indianapolis Baptist Temple was illegally seized by the federal government not because, as many news reports suggested, it hadn’t paid taxes. Churches aren’t required to pay taxes in America. The church was seized because it refused to deduct withholding and payroll taxes from employees’ paychecks. The church’s reason was very sound: It did not want to submit to regulations by the federal government.

In other words, the federal government didn’t lose a penny of revenue because of the actions of the church. There isn’t even any allegation by the government that it did. Employees of the church paid taxes individually — just as millions of other employees and independent contractors do every year.

So, why did Washington send in the goons?

Because the federal government wants to send you and me a message — and the Indianapolis Baptist Temple was, it figured, a good way to do it.

Just to be very clear, the church was not challenging the legality of the income tax, which would certainly be its right. It was not challenging the federal government’s insistence that its employees pay tribute in the form of income taxes, which would be its right. Instead, the church was only challenging Treasury Department regulations that require businesses to withhold taxes from employees and pay them directly to Washington.

It seems to me the church has a good case. Having been in business myself for a good long time, I know that withholding requirements do make corporations — profit or nonprofit — directly accountable to all kinds of regulations of the federal government. And it was those kinds of regulations that the church was resisting.

Isn’t it interesting that the administration that just announced, with much fanfare, its decision to fund “faith-based charities” is, a few days later, seizing the assets of one of those institutions for failure to comply with its regulations?

This should be a warning to all those Christians who so gleefully accepted President Bush’s overtures of “help” from the federal government last week. What we saw in Indianapolis this week is the future if you accept those “handouts” and “goodies.” Government “help” always comes with strings attached.

I don’t know Rev. Gregory J. Dixon, the leader of the Indianapolis church. But I respect his stand. If more church leaders were willing to stand on principle as he did, this country would be better off as a result.

I call on Attorney General John Ashcroft, the man I supported in his confirmation battle in the Senate, to apologize to Dixon for the government’s action, restore the church’s property and pay all appropriate damages. In America, we don’t seize churches — at least not in the America in which I want to live.

I suppose some people were just relieved the Indianapolis standoff ended peacefully. Yes, after Waco, I guess we should be grateful that the church members and leadership weren’t massacred and the church burned to the ground to destroy all evidence.

But, I suspect, the government’s message in Indianapolis is, in many ways, just as worrisome. Last week the New York Times reported the IRS will soon be targeting businesses all over the United States that refuse to withhold employee payroll taxes. The seizure of the church in Indianapolis sets the stage for a series of actions in which government will be using brute force to show individuals, business owners and, yes, even churches, who is the real boss in America.

If the IRS can send armed agents to seize a church in full view of the American public, who then can stand before this beast? Where is the outrage? Don’t Americans get it? Don’t they understand their own fundamental freedoms are under attack?

Editor’s note: If you would like to know how to reach the church or help the ministry in its fight with Washington, just visit Indianapolis Baptist Temple’s website.

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