A noon deadline for the Indianapolis Baptist Temple to vacate its property passed without any sign of marshals. U.S. District Judge Sarah Evans on Sept. 28 ordered the surrender of the church, its school and parsonages to satisfy a $6 million debt to the Internal Revenue Service.
``Are the federal marshals here yet? Where are they?'' the pastor, the Rev. Greg A. Dixon, said.
A woman answering the telephone at the U.S. Marshals Service office in Indianapolis said no one was available to comment on the situation.
The independent Baptist church, a 1,000-member congregation, stopped withholding federal income and Social Security taxes from the paychecks of its employees in 1984, saying that its duty to obey God prevailed over manmade laws, and that withholding taxes would make it an agent of the government. Dixon said the employees have paid their own taxes.
More than 400 people, some from other faiths and others from as far away as Texas, began a prayer vigil one hour before the deadline. One woman openly wept from her red, theater-style seat inside the sanctuary.
``They can take our church. They cannot take our convictions,'' Dixon said from the pulpit to shouts of ``Amen!'' and applause.
``You can't cry and moan forever. You got to get up, knock the dust off and keep on moving. And that's what we're going to do,'' Dixon said.
Experts have said they believe the case would be the first in which the federal government confiscated a church in a tax dispute.
Inside the church, slogans on banners proclaimed, ``Judge Sarah Evans Barker, God will not be mocked'' and ``Father, have mercy on them,'' followed by the names of William Rehnquist and John Paul Stevens. The two U.S. Supreme Court justices in recent days had denied the Baptist Temple's request for a stay of Barker's order.
The tax lien consists of unpaid back taxes, plus penalties and interest.
The Justice Department, which represented the IRS in the protracted legal battle, had no comment on Tuesday's developments, spokeswoman Obern Rainey said.