A website known for spreading misinformation writes that a man who cited religious reasons for not paying his income taxes “has won an historic lawsuit against the IRS.” That’s misleading. One charge was dropped, but four others have yet to be determined.
Michael Bowman, who lives in Oregon, is set to go to trial in August on the four remaining charges of willful failure to file a return, a misdemeanor that carries a potential sentence of up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $25,000. Bowman says he stopped paying his taxes on religious grounds since he opposes abortion and he fears his tax money could be used to fund abortions.
The case hadn’t gotten much attention since the tax evasion charge was dropped in April 2018, but a website called News Punch, which is known for spreading misinformation and conspiracy theories, has posted a misleading story about it that has been shared on Facebook more than 65,000 times. The story says: “A Christian man who refuses to pay his taxes until the government stops funding abortion has won an historic lawsuit against the IRS.”
Bowman hasn’t “won” the lawsuit — the outcome has not been determined — and his religious argument had nothing to do with the judge’s decision to dismiss the tax evasion charge.
In fact, Bowman had filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the whole case, citing his rights under the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The judge denied his request.
The reason the judge dismissed the tax evasion charge, which is a felony, was because prosecutors for the IRS had failed to prove that Bowman had actively evaded tax collection. The prosecutors had argued that because Bowman began cashing his paychecks instead of depositing them in his bank account after the Oregon Department of Revenue garnished his account in 2012, that showed evasion. The judge, though, found that because it wasn’t the federal authorities who had garnished the account, prosecutors hadn’t shown that Bowman was evading them. The decision had nothing to do with Bowman’s religious argument, or his concern over federal tax money potentially funding abortions.
The way the News Punch story is displayed on Facebook, readers are exposed only to the claim that Bowman “refuses to pay taxes until abortion is defunded” and that he won a “huge court victory,” leaving the impression that religious views may be an exemption from paying taxes. Facebook users responded with comments like: “Let’s all do the same. Don’t use my hard earned money to fund murder.”
We’ve written about the issue of taxpayer funding for abortions before. Under the Hyde Amendment, federal money can’t be used to fund abortion services except in cases of rape or incest or if the life of the mother is in danger.
Update, April 9: As a result of our story, Newspunch.com changed its headline to read, “Man Who Refuses to Pay Taxes Until Abortion Is Defunded Has One Charge Dismissed.” It also updated its article to say that the judge’s decision to drop the charge wasn’t related to a religious argument.
Editor’s note: FactCheck.org is one of several organizations working with Facebook to debunk misinformation shared on the social media network.
United States v. Bowman. No. 17-00068. Indictment. U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. 29 Nov 2017.
Title 26–Internal Revenue Code. Section 7203. Willful failure to file return, supply information, or pay tax. GPO. Accessed 4 Apr 2019.
United States v. Bowman. No. 17-00068. Bench ruling. U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon. 11 Apr 2018.
Adl-Tabatabai, Sean. “Man Who Refuses to Pay Taxes Until Abortion Is Defunded Wins Huge Court Victory.” NewsPunch.com. 20 Feb 2019.
Robertson, Lori. “Planned Parenthood.” FactCheck.org. 18 Apr 2011.