Michael Bowman, a 53-year-old self-employed computer software developer from Columbia City, Oregon, hasn’t paid his federal income taxes since 1999.
He says it’s because his Christian ideals don’t allow him to pay into a system that funds abortions. In a YouTube video explainer of his defense, he likened paying taxes that then go toward funding abortions to German citizens under Nazi rule who outed Jewish citizens, sending them to their deaths.
And according to The Associated Press, he beat the feds in court this week.
To be clear, Bowman won the battle, not the war he’s fighting with the IRS and the Oregon U.S. District Court, when federal Judge Michael W. Mosman dismissed a felony tax evasion charge against Bowman.
Mosman ruled that the government’s indictment failed to provide any evidence that Bowman tried to conceal money from or misled the IRS by cashing his paychecks instead of depositing them and keeping a low bank balance so tax collectors couldn’t garnish wages from it to pay what it says are back taxes owed.
“Not everything that makes collection efforts more difficult qualifies as evasion,” Mosman said Wednesday, according to the Oregonian.
According to Bowman’s federal indictment, the self-employed computer software developer owes back taxes on at least $800,000 of income and falsely claimed he was owed several refunds. The feds claim he started using the religious argument for not paying his taxes only after his “’Claim of Right’ tax avoidance scheme failed.”
The taxes and penalties due associated with that income is $356,857.
That indictment came down in February 2017, and Mosman dismissed it without prejudice Wednesday, which means the prosecutors could seek a new indictment to replace it. Bowman still faces four misdemeanor counts of willful failure to file tax returns.
Bowman allegedly also left voicemail messages for the IRS revenue officer assigned to his case in 2013, where he stated that he refused to pay his taxes. He says he’s been up front with authorities all along.
When the Oregon Department of Revenue began taking money from Bowman’s bank account in 2012, Bowman began cashing his work checks instead of depositing them, leaving a minimal balance in his account through at least September 2014, according to the Oregonian.
“Defendant’s altered bank behavior removed his income from the reach of taxing authorities and allowed him to avoid payment of assessed taxes,” Assistant U.S. Attorneys Donna Brecker Maddux and Rachel K. Sowray wrote in their defense of the felony tax evasion charge.
But Bowman’s lawyer argued that simply cashing checks in his own name did not constitute tax evasion. Mosman agreed.
Bowman’s defense in the larger scope of his refusal to pay taxes comes from a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prohibits government from substantially burdening a person’s religious exercise unless the government demonstrates a compelling government interest and does so through the least restrictive means.
In April of 2017, though, President Donald Trump signed a law that prohibits the use of federal funds to pay for abortion, except in cases of rape or to save a woman’s life. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that for the years 2014 and 2015, $450 million in government funding was distributed to Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions as well as education, contraception and other forms of reproductive care.