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Supreme Court declines case involving RFRA as a tax defense

May 24, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court won't take up a case involving an Indianapolis man who tried to use the state's religious objections law as a defense for not paying his state taxes.

The court unanimously agreed last week that 41-year-old Rodney Tyms-Bey is still required to pay his taxes despite his argument that doing so is a burden on his religion. The decision upholds a January ruling by an appellate court.

Tyms-Bey had been charged with three counts of felony tax evasion in 2014. The state said he fraudulently used tax credits and owed more than $1,000 in back taxes.

Tyms-Bey relied on a clause in Indiana's 2015 Religious Freedom Restoration Act that allows individuals to cite the law as a defense in legal proceedings. The act prohibits state laws that "substantially burden" a person's ability to follow his or her religious beliefs.

"When this law was signed, it opened up a whole new world of legal defense," Tyms-Bey's attorney, Matthew Gerber, previously argued. Gerber said a jury should decide whether his client has "a closely held religious belief."

Prosecutors argued that paying income taxes doesn't burden religious practices. They also said Tyms-Bey couldn't use the defense because he didn't identify his religion.

The law has been cited in several other recent cases. Last year, a mother charged with beating her 7-year-old son said the law gave her the right to discipline him according to her evangelical Christian beliefs. She accepted a plea agreement and received probation.

In July, the First Church of Cannabis in Indianapolis sued the city and the state, arguing laws that ban the possession and use of marijuana were infringing on its religious beliefs because cannabis is the church's sacrament.

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