No religious liberty violation in holding ministry CEO liable for organization’s unpaid taxes

Howard Friedman, Religion Clause

In Vaughn v. Internal Revenue Service, (ED NC, July 16, 2012) a North Carolina federal district court held that a bankruptcy judge did not violate the Free Exercise or Establishment Clause rights of Go Tell It Evangelistic Ministry (GTI), or its CEO and Chief Apostle Corletta Vaughn, when the bankruptcy court found Vaughn personally responsible for GTI’s unpaid payroll taxes.  Appellants challenged the finding that Vaughn was liable for the tax payments under 26 USC 6672 as the person responsible for collecting them and paying them over to the government. The court said:

The bankruptcy court interpreted the [GTI] bylaws as authorizing the Chief Apostle to have decision making authority and supervision over business matters…. Appellants argue that this interpretation now forces the Chief Apostle of GTI to concern herself with secular affairs. Putting aside the fact that the plain language of the bylaws suggests that the Chief Apostle does concern herself with such affairs, the bankruptcy court did not base its decision on the bylaws alone. Contrarily, close examination of the bankruptcy court’s order reveals that it placed great emphasis on what Ms. Vaughn actually did as the Chief Apostle of GTI.