The Rev. Sun Myung Moon was released this week from a halfway house in Brooklyn after serving 13 months -- most of it in the federal prison in Danbury, Conn. -- for tax fraud. For weeks before this event, full-page ads appeared in newspapers, including this one, questioning the justice of Rev. Moon's conviction. And at a press conference in this city following his release, a group of Rev. Moon's supporters, some of whom are clergymen, charged that his case was a serious and threatening infringement of First Amendment rights.
These arguments have been heard before. They were made before a series of federal courts to no avail. They were put forward by lawyers and public relations firms when the Supreme Court was considering a petition to hear Rev. Moon's appeal; but that petition was denied. It is reasonable to assume that these arguments failed to persuade a single court because they have no merit.
Rev. Moon was not prosecuted for criminal violation of the tax laws over a simple misunderstanding or an innocent omission on his return. He was convicted not only of failing to report personal income but also of concocting, with his associates, fraudulent evidence to show that the funds in question were actually the property of his church. Freedom of religion is not threatened by this conviction, nor are other church leaders in jeopardy so long as they do not participate in conspiracies to conceal personal assets, forge documents or defraud the government.
The same law applies to every religious group: church funds used for church purposes remain tax- exempt; funds that belong to individuals or that are generated by commercial or unrelated business activities of the church are taxable. And juries are competent to make factual findings about the source and ownership of assets.
It is fine that Rev. Moon has completed his sentence and was a model prisoner. But he is not a martyr and is not entitled to be treated as if he had been some kind of prisoner of conscience.