Divided COA: Man can't use RFRA to avoid taxes

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A divided Indiana Court of Appeals ruled Friday that a Marion County man cannot avoid paying income taxes using a religious freedom defense, with the majority writing that the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act allows for the collection of taxes in the furtherance of a compelling government interest.

In 2013, Rodney Tyms-Bey was notified that the Indiana Department of Revenue had determined that he had falsely reported his income and eligible tax deductions in 2012 and owed the state $1,042.82. He responded with paperwork claiming that he was a “sovereign citizen” and also declaring himself an estate and, thus, did not subsequently amend his tax return or pay the outstanding balance.

The following year, Tyms-Bey was charged with three counts of felony tax evasion, each as Class D felonies, but on July 1, 2015, the date RFRA took effect, he filed a notice of defense of religious freedom. The state moved to strike the defense and at a related hearing, Tyms-Bey refused to identify what religious practice was burdened by the state’s actions. Instead, he said he was entitled to present his case to a jury.

The Marion Superior Court granted the motion to strike and Tyms-Bey appealed in Rodney Tyms-Bey v. State of Indiana, 49A05-1603-CR-439. But a divided Indiana Court of Appeals rejected Tyms-Bey’s RFRA argument Friday, with Judge John Baker writing for the majority that the defendant could never raise a successful RFRA defense.

Baker and Chief Judge Nancy Vaidik, who concurred with the majority, based their opinion on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252, 258-61 (1982), which held that “(b)ecause the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such a high order, religious belief in conflict with the payment of taxes affords no basis for resisting the tax.”

Baker noted that a statutory exception to RFRA allows the government to substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion if the burden furthers a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of doing so.

“We adopt the analysis of the Lee Court and hold as a matter of law that, in the context of Indiana’s RFRA, there is a compelling governmental interest in collecting income tax revenue,” Baker wrote. “There are no facts that Tyms-Bey could proffer with respect to his exercise of religion that would not be overcome by the State’s compelling interest and the means used by the State in furthering that interest.”

But Judge Edward Najam, writing in a dissenting opinion that was nearly twice as long as the majority’s, wrote that although “Tyms-Bey’s alleged RFRA defense may ultimately not succeed, he is entitled to his day in court.”

“(I)n enacting Indiana’s RFRA, our legislature explicitly reserved to itself, and withheld from our judiciary, the right to declare categorical exemptions from RFRA’s application,” Najam wrote. “The majority’s holding disregards that command and categorically removes tax-based actions from RFRA’s application.”

Rather than Lee, Najam wrote that Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 134 S.Ct. 2751, 2761-62 (2014) is a better reflection of the Indiana Legislature’s intent when enacting RFRA.

“And this is significant here because, as Burwell explains, RFRA demands a fact-sensitive, ‘particularized’ assessment of the claimed religious exemption, while Lee does not,” he said.



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  1. I have had an ongoing custody case for 6 yrs. I should have been the sole legal custodial parent but was a victim of a vindictive ex and the system biasedly supported him. He is an alcoholic and doesn't even have a license for two yrs now after his 2nd DUI. Fast frwd 6 yrs later my kids are suffering poor nutritional health, psychological issues, failing in school, have NO MD and the GAL could care less, DCS doesn't care. The child isn't getting his ADHD med he needs and will not succeed in life living this way. NO one will HELP our family.I tried for over 6 yrs. The judge called me an idiot for not knowing how to enter evidence and the last hearing was 8 mths ago. That in itself is unjust! The kids want to be with their Mother! They are being alienated from her and fed lies by their Father! I was hit in a car accident 3 yrs ago and am declared handicapped myself. Poor poor way to treat the indigent in Indiana!

  2. The Indiana DOE released the 2015-2016 school grades in Dec 2016 and my local elementary school is a "C" grade school. Look at the MCCSC boundary maps and how all of the most affluent neighborhoods have the best performance. It is no surprise that obtaining residency in the "A" school boundaries cost 1.5 to 3 times as much. As a parent I should have more options than my "C" school without needing to pay the premium to live in the affluent parts of town. If the charter were authorized by a non-religious school the plaintiffs would still be against it because it would still be taking per-pupil money from them. They are hiding behind the guise of religion as a basis for their argument when this is clearly all about money and nothing else.

  3. This is a horrible headline. The article is about challenging the ability of Grace College to serve as an authorizer. 7 Oaks is not a religiously affiliated school

  4. Congratulations to Judge Carmichael for making it to the final three! She is an outstanding Judge and the people of Indiana will benefit tremendously if/when she is chosen.

  5. The headline change to from "religious" to "religious-affiliated" is still inaccurate and terribly misleading.