On the morning of January 31, 1997, sheriff's deputies in Marion County, Oregon conducted a raid upon the headquarters and parsonage of the Embassy of Heaven, a small Christian church near the town of Sublimity, Oregon. The raid resulted in the arrest of Pastor Paul Revere along with two other men and eviction of his wife and two young daughters from their home.
The men were charged with obstruction of governmental administration, a misdemeanor, for failing to vacate the land voluntarily when notified to do so. The thirty-four acres and all personal and church property were seized for refusal to pay back taxes in excess of $16,000, the county claims.
The Oregonian newspaper reported that the deputies "broke a glass patio door to gain entry after Revere refused to open the door". Others giving accounts of the raid claimed that the deputies knocked, then broke the glass and entered the church with dogs and rifles before Revere, still in bed, had sufficient opportunity to respond. Revere's wife, Rachel, claimed that no identification was offered and the men, clad in blue jeans and dark jackets, were not identifiable as police officers.
Pastor Revere is said to have asked the deputies why they broke the glass in the church door when it is never locked. The deputy claimed it was locked but, when an officer checked on it at Revere's request, he found the door was indeed unlocked.
The brief coverage given the incident in Oregon's largest newspaper apparently left out important factual information pointing directly to a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment. According to Pastor Revere and other members of the church, they had completed all the requisite paperwork to qualify them for federal and local property tax exemption. The state denied them the exemption offering no explanation for the refusal.
The assault, taking place in the dawn darkness of the wooded property, was coordinated between the City of Salem SWAT Team, the Oregon State Police and the Oregon National Guard. Included in the operation, in addition to state police vehicles was a National Guard Light Armored Vehicle (LAV), a treaded, tank-like machine with armored gun ports. The stated purpose for the LAV was to address the possible need to extricate any law enforcement personal in the event they might be pinned down by hostile gunfire.
According to Revere and witnesses familiar with the church body, the only "weapon" owned by them was a small, bolt-action .22 caliber rifle for use against coyotes and skunks. However, the assault team had what they considered legitimate concerns necessitating the use of the SWAT team and National Guard armored vehicle. The Criminal Investigations Division of the IRS had been conducting a surveillance of what they thought was the church property over a period of six years, and determined that Embassy of Heaven members regularly patrolled the perimeter of their "compound" with firearms. What community sources concluded, and according to actual IRS Field Notes and records obtained by Revere, the property they were keeping under observation was, in fact, a half mile away from the church land and owned by Roy Basl, a local farmer who carried a sidearm or rifle for use against stock predators while routinely checking his fence line for breaches. Because of a mix-up at the local post office, Basl had been receiving mail addressed to the Embassy of Heaven which, to the IRS, was sufficient proof that their farm was the church's property. According to Basl, the IRS field agent conducting the surveillance was informed numerous times that the church was a half mile down the road; a fact which the agent apparently chose to ignore.
Pastor Revere and his family were required to vacate with only the clothes they were wearing and allowed to take no personal items such as even a toothbrush. It took over two months for the county to return their clothes and other articles to them that were, by law, exempt from any property seizure. Among the items taken was a large quantity of silver coins donated by the church's congregation (30 local members and approximately 300 nationwide) to build their new chapel.
In the two-and-a-half months since the raid, all criminal charges have been dropped but the land and confiscated vehicles owned by the church have not been returned. An offer was made, according to Revere, to return them on condition that he would sign a "Hold Harmless" document waiving any liability incurred by alleged misconduct of law enforcement personnel. Revere refused to sign the document intending to take the matter into litigation. His stated purpose for the suit is not monetary, but to expose the open and clear violation of the First Amendment by Oregon State governmental and law enforcement authorities.
The church congregation now assembles each Sunday at the entrance to their cordoned-off property to conduct outdoor worship services.
The Winds will continue coverage of this challenge to the constitution as details become available.
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