PORTLAND — For the past two decades, a pro-life Oregon Christian has declined to pay his federal taxes out of a belief that it is wrong for tax revenue in any way to fund the killing of unborn babies through abortion.
It took years for the Internal Revenue Service to take action against Michael Bowman of Columbia City, but, as reported by The Oregonian, last month it only took a federal judge in Portland a half-hour to find Bowman guilty of four counts of willfully failing to file tax returns between 2011 and 2014, when he had $138,026 in taxes due.
Bowman, 55, was not present in the courtroom but listened by telephone. He will be sentenced March 2 and could face up to a year in jail on each of the four misdemeanor counts. U.S. District Chief Judge Michael Mosman said Bowman could remain out of custody pending his sentencing. Bowman has indicated he plans to appeal.
Mosman’s quick verdict Dec. 9 was the result of an unusual second trial of Bowman, but this time with no witnesses, no jury and a set of agreed-upon facts provided to the court, the newspaper noted. An earlier jury trial last August resulted in a mistrial; the jury of eight women and four men deliberated 11 hours but could not reach a verdict.
The case went back to Mosman after the judge, six days following the mistrial, told lawyers from both sides that he had erred during the summer trial by allowing Bowman to explain his religious objection to filing tax returns, and also that his instructions to jurors were poor.
Mosman said that during the second trial he wouldn’t allow Bowman to offer what’s called a “good faith” defense that he believed the government owed him an accomodation based on Bowman’s reading of the federal Religious Freedom Reformation Act and the Oregon constitution.
Matthew Schindler, Bowman’s lawyer, had argued during the summer jury trial that Bowman’s reliance on the Religious Freedom Reformation Act led to his “good faith” misunderstanding of his obligations under the federal tax code. But before the retrial, Mosman threw out that defense, stating that any such misunderstanding had to be of the tax code itself, not another law. Schindler strongly disputed that, stating that nothing in case law says that the source of the misunderstanding must only be the tax code.
The judge’s stance on that issue meant that at last month’s quick retrial, Schindler could no longer raise his client’s basic defense point. He could only argue that the IRS’s lack of action for more than a decade against Bowman — not garnishing his bank account nor his wages — lessened Bowman’s responsibility for any wrongdoing.
Opting not to show up in person at the second trial, Bowman fully expected Mosman to convict him. In an email to the judge, he called being stripped of his defense an “abortion of justice.” Believing that he now could not get a fair trial because of it, Bowman and his lawyer agreed that there was no sense in having another trial before a jury.
A self-employed computer software developer, Bow-man said he also has personal as well as religious reasons for his stance. When he was young, his girlfriend was forced by her parents to abort their unborn baby, and he was not able to stop it.
Oregon is one of 16 states that forces its taxpayers to pay for elective abortions through its medical assistance program. Nationwide, taxpayers also have been funding a large share of Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion chain in the nation, although the Trump administration last summer defunded about $60 million in federal monies that the organization has received annually.
In 2018, Bowman won a victory in court when a federal judge dismissed one of the charges against him — felony tax evasion. But the two trials this year focused on the four misdemeanor charges that Bowman still faced.
At the summer trial, Schindler noted that during the nearly two decadesthe IRS took no action against Bowman, his client never did a single thing to hide from the government or conceal his money. Bowman banked the whole time in the same account and worked under the same business name. Schindler added that while the IRS has not collected any of the money it says Bowman owes, the government has spent half a million dollars taking him to court.
Prosecutors contended that Bowman disobeyed the law simply because he disagreed with it. But both Schindler and Bowman, who testified for three hours in the summer trial, emphasized that Bowman had a sincere belief that the First Amendment, the Oregon constitution and the federal Religious Freedom Reformation Act either permitted his religious objection or required the federal government to accommodate his religious objection to funding Planned Parenthood and abortions. Bowman insisted that he didn’t have a basic objection to paying taxes, but simply did not want to have a part in funding the killing of unborn babies.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Donna Maddux claimed that Bowman was being obstinate and that he knew it was wrong not to file his income tax returns. She said Bowman was put on notice through a 2005 ruling from an Oregon tax court judge who found federal law does not allow a person’s religious beliefs to provide a rationale for avoiding taxes.
In its reporting on the Bowman case, the media pointed out that surveys show many Americans oppose their tax dollars being used to pay for abortions. A recent national poll by Marist University found that a majority of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions, while just 39 percent support them. Also, a 2016 Politico/Harvard University poll found that 36 percent of likely voters supported taxpayer funding for abortions, while 58 percent opposed it.