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Man with religious objection to filing tax returns sentenced

UPDATED: Sat., Aug. 22, 2020

Associated Press

Associated Press

PORTLAND – A judge Thursday sentenced a northwestern Oregon man to probation for four counts of willfully failing to file tax returns after the court last year threw out his religious objection as a viable defense in an unusual second trial with no jury or witnesses.

Michael Bowman, of Columbia City, said the case has destroyed him financially and he accused the judge of causing him a “grave injustice” by rejecting his defense that he didn’t want to fund abortion, the Oregonian/OregonLive reported.

“I’m down to nothing and I’m doing this on principle,” Bowman, 56, said.

He declined to pay taxes because he said he believed the government owed him an accommodation based on his reading of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Oregon Constitution.

The case first resulted in a mistrial in August 2019 when a jury couldn’t reach consensus.

Bowman told the jury he objected to funding Planned Parenthood and paying for abortion and withheld his taxes on religious grounds.

The jury was stuck on the key question of whether Bowman intentionally failed to follow the law.

U.S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman later told the lawyers that he had erred in allowing Bowman to explain his religious objection to filing tax returns during the trial and that his instructions to jurors were poor.

At a second trial before only the judge, Mosman said he wouldn’t allow Bowman to raise what’s called a “good faith” defense that he believed the government owed him an accommodation.

Before sentencing Thursday, Mosman said he didn’t think Bowman was a con man trying to avoid his tax obligation and that he had a sincere belief behind it.

Mosman said that informed his decision to place Bowman on probation for refusing to pay taxes from 2011 through 2014. Mosman also ordered Bowman to pay $138,026 in restitution, file tax returns by April 15 each year and provide probation officers with access to his financial information.

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