From Joseph Stack’s suicide manifesto (emphasis added):
Some friends introduced me to a group of people who were having ‘tax code’ readings and discussions. In particular, zeroed in on a section relating to the wonderful “exemptions” that make institutions like the vulgar, corrupt Catholic Church so incredibly wealthy. We carefully studied the law (with the help of some of the “best”, high-paid, experienced tax lawyers in the business), and then began to do exactly what the “big boys” were doing (except that we weren’t steeling (sic) from our congregation or lying to the government about our massive profits in the name of God). We took a great deal of care to make it all visible, following all of the rules, exactly the way the law said it was to be done.
The intent of this exercise and our efforts was to bring about a much-needed re-evaluation of the laws that allow the monsters of organized religion to make such a mockery of people who earn an honest living. However, this is where I learned that there are two “interpretations” for every law; one for the very rich, and one for the rest of us… Oh, and the monsters are the very ones making and enforcing the laws; the inquisition is still alive and well today in this country.
That little lesson in patriotism cost me $40,000+, 10 years of my life, and set my retirement plans back to 0.
Most of what I have read in news reports about Stack’s tax problems focuses on a small provision in the tax law that required contract software programmers to be employees of their employer like everyone else, rather than receive the more favorable treatment given to bona fide “independent contractors.” But it appears that Mr. Stack actually fell off the train when he fell for the pitch of one of the many nutty tax protest gurus who were fleecing the gullible back in the 1980’s. The tax protest gurus had learned that you can make a lot of money just by telling people what they want to hear – true or not.
The gist of the “I’m a church” tax protest scheme – the one that I speculate that Mr. Stack fell for – is illustrated by this summary from the Peister case:
Peister formed a church with himself as minister and his wife and parents as its trustees, took a vow of poverty in form only, set up church checking accounts, and used the funds in those accounts for personal purposes. Peister, 631 F.2d at 660. The court stated:
“In the instant case the record contains adequate evidence from which the jury could infer that Peister set up the church to avoid taxes. Viewed most favorably to the government, the evidence showed the church was a shell entity, fully controlled by Peister and his wife, or at the least by them together with Peister’s parents. The vow of poverty was one in form only, and had no substantive effect on defendant’s lifestyle. The use of the purchased forms to establish the church and the sequence of events all indicate a deliberate plan to manufacture a religious order exemption. The jury apparently chose to disbelieve Peister’s testimony of his belief in the church, and that was within the jury’s power as the fact finder.”
The “I’m a church” dodge is just one of many tax protester arguments that has led to financial ruin or even jail for those who tried them. A summary of many of the various failed arguments can be found here. They range from the simple-minded (“the Sixteenth Amendment to the Constitution is unconstitutional”) to the bizarre (“the Republic of Texas is not part of the USA”). What they have in common is that NOT ONE of them has ever prevailed in court. NOT ONE.
Benjamin Franklin observed that “in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Apparently Mr. Stack disagreed. Now he has experienced both.
A wasted life. May you rest in the peace that eluded you in this life, Rev. Stack.