The Minnesota Tax Court has rejected the claim of a Roseville, Minn., man who donated all his earnings to a self-styled "church" and contended he thus had no income to be taxed by the state.
The three-member court said Randall C. Fury, an accountant for the city of Fridley, was using his Life Science Church of Roseville as a tax avoidance scheme. "It is quite clear that the sole purpose of setting up the so-called church was to avoid the payment of taxes," the court said.
Fury obtained a mail-order church charter for $1,000 from William Drexler, a disbarred lawyer from Minnesota who now operates from San Diego, Calif. Drexler lists himself as bishop of the Life Science Church.
Fury, who calls himself an ordained minister of the Life Science Church, was paid $15,777 in 1977 and claims it was all tax exempt. He sought a refund of the $1.013 withheld from his paychecks. The state asked not only that the amount be withheld but that an additional $84.81 be lieved.
The case involving Fury was the first to be heard by the state court of about 50 cases pending in Minndesota in which citizens claim to have become ministers of a mail-order church and to have established their own church. Each has filed a "vow of poverty," declaring that all living expenses are paid by the church.
About 50 more taxpayers are being pursued by the Minnesota revenue department because they refuse to fill our tax returns on grounds to do so would violate their Fifth Amendment rights.
According to the Minnesota revenue department, two of the leading figures in the mail-order church business are lawyers who were disbarred by the Minnesota Supreme Court: Jerome Daly and William Drexler. It said Daly operates the Basic Bible Church, dispensing memberships for $750 each. Drexler, operating out of San Diego, offers memberships in the Life Science Church for $1,000.
Gerome T. Caulfield, director of the Minnesota Income Tax Department, is surveying 43 other states having income-tax to see how they are handling the church-based tax protest movement, "I think we will win but in the interim we are concerned with a rip-off our citizens," Caulfield said.
Paul Dempainen, an assistant Minnesota attorney general, said the state steers clear of any argument over what constitutes a church. Rather, he says, the essential argument is that if you earn money in the usual sense, you pay a tax on it. If the benefits go to an individual, it cannot be considered to be going to a church, says the state.
In Fury's case, he continued to do accounting work for Fridley and was paid for it, but Fury then gave the money to his self-styled church. The church then paid his living expenses. Fury submitted a vow of poverty, declaring that he, personally, had no income.
Drexler and Daly have been given tax-exempt status for their churches by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. Minnesota contends that they cannot pass on his exemption by ordaining ministers and authorizing auxiliary churches.
Fury says that he intends to appeal the decision to the Minnesota Supreme Court. A former Roman Catholic, he claims that his "church" is totally within the limits of the law.