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Mormon can't use tithing to delay back taxes, court rules

Published March 18, 2013 4:25 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A U.S. tax court recently ruled that Mormon tithing is not a "necessary" expense, but rather a voluntary contribution.

That's not, of course, how the petitioner, George Thompson, an LDS businessman and temple worker in Manhattan, sees it. Thompson argued that the tax court was taking away his religious freedom.

The legal exchange even included dueling Bible scriptures, with Thompson throwing out several verses in Malachi, which talk about "rob[bing]" God by not offering tithes, while the Internal Revenue Service responded with Jesus' statement in Matthew to "render therefore to Caesar" that which is Caesar's.

Here are the undisputed facts: Thompson owed nearly $900,000 in corporate and individual taxes going back years and had agreed to pay $3,000 a month toward the debt. The tax assessor, however, had determined he could afford $8,389 per month if he didn't pay tithing.

"Paying tithing, he argues, is necessary for his spiritual health and welfare," according to a discussion of the case on the Times and Seasons website. But Thompson didn't offer any concrete evidence of the spiritual benefits so the court rejected his claim, saying "it would be inappropriate for the IRS to make determinations of what is or is not necessary for a person's spiritual welfare."

Thompson said he would lose his volunteer temple position if he didn't pay tithing (10 percent of his income), but the IRS said that was the church's decision, not the government's. It also did not bar Thompson from contributing to his church, only that he couldn't deduct it from his monthly payment.

In an interesting point, however, Mormon blogger Sam Brunson notes that the LDS Church's official Handbook says members who refuse to pay their taxes cannot have temple recommends or hold callings of "principal responsibility."

Thompson, though, is not refusing to pay taxes; he just wants more time.

Peggy Fletcher Stack