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RICHARD CARELLI (Associated Press Writer)
Quakers Lose Tax Fight Appeal
January 18, 2000
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Supreme Court today rejected appeals by Quakers who say the Internal Revenue Service violates their religious freedom by charging fees and interest for delays in paying the portion of their federal tax that funds the military.
The justices, turning away arguments by three Religious Society of Friends members from New England and Pennsylvania, let the tax agency impose the late fees and interest in addition to the back taxes.
The court, without comment, let stand rulings that had gone against the Quakers.
Their appeals did not contest having to pay 100 percent of their tax bill when the IRS forces their hand. Instead, the Quakers cited a ``religious hardship'' and argued they should be able to pay the back taxes without any penalties or interest.
In rejecting that argument, two federal appeals courts relied on a 1982 decision in which the Supreme Court said, ``The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge (it) because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.''
Gordon and Edith Browne have homes in New Hampshire and Vermont. Like other Quakers, they refuse to participate in war-related activities.
Their appeal said that as a result of religious faith and study, the Brownes ``came to believe that they could no longer voluntarily pay that portion of their federal income taxes which they determined was dedicated to war or related to participation in war.''
So for the years 1993, 1994 and 1995, the Brownes did not pay about 25 percent of the taxes they owed, a percentage they calculated was spent on the military.
Each year, the IRS contacted the Brownes within three months of their filing a tax return but did not get around to collecting the unpaid amounts for up to two years. The delay increased the Brownes' liability for each year by as much as 15 percent in penalties and interest.
Priscilla Lippincott Adams, a Quaker from Philadelphia, also cited her religious beliefs in arguing that she cannot voluntarily pay taxes used to fund ``warmaking activities.''
She withheld a portion of her federal income taxes paid for five years in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and later was assessed late fees and interest -- adding about 10 percent to the back taxes she owed.
The Brownes sued the IRS in federal court in Vermont; Ms. Adams sued in the U.S. Tax Court. Both lawsuits unsuccessfully sought refunds for the fees and interest the Quakers were forced to pay.
In the appeals acted on today, lawyers for the Brownes and Ms. Adams argued, among other things, that the tax agency's refusal to grant exemptions for a religious hardship unduly interferes with Quakers' right to exercise their religious beliefs.
Justice Department lawyers urged the court to reject both appeals. ``Voluntary compliance with the tax laws is the least restrictive means of furthering the government's compelling interest in collecting taxes,'' they said.
The cases are Browne vs. U.S., 99-632, and Adams vs. Commissioner, IRS, 99-798.