Rev. Sun Myung Moon:

His Life and Works


In the media’s coverage of Reverend Moon, it is often mentioned that he was convicted of tax evasion and imprisoned in 1984. But little is written regarding the legal controversies surrounding his troubling case. Little is also written about broad cross-section of religious and civic organizations that spoke on Rev. Moon’s behalf regarding him as a victim of religious persecution plain and simple.

Reverend Moon's court case is now cited in law courses as an example of the law gone wrong. Forty leading groups and individuals signed amicus curiae (friend of the court) briefs on behalf of Rev. Moon's appeal to the US Supreme Court. The outcry in support of Rev. Moon by the religious community and civil liberty organizations has rarely been seen in US legal history.
Reverend Moon is no stranger to unjust treatment by state authorities- he has been jailed four other times by three different governments: once in Japan, twice in North Korea, and once in South Korea.

Those who know Rev. Moon see his ordeals as badges of honor conferred on a man of uncompromising faith. Other religious leaders imprisoned by secular authorities -- to name just a few -- are Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., St. Francis, Ignatius Loyola, George Fox and, of course, Jesus Christ.

Opinions on Reverend Moon's felony conviction for "tax evasion" of
$7300.00 by leaders who worked on his behalf:

Rev. Ralph Abernathy, President Emeritus of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference , in his review of the book The Odyssey of New Religious Movements:

"The abuse of the Unification Church and other new religions is painfully reminiscent of the black experience."

Rev. Dean Kelly,
head of the National Council of Churches at the time said:

“…the whole appalling story of how Sun Myung Moon and his accountant were framed by the government of the United States… should be read by every American who values religious liberty and wants this miscarriage of justice never to be repeated.”

Los Angeles Times editorial (3/2/84)

"The Supreme Court should reverse Moon’s conviction and reaffirm the principle that the First Amendment makes no distinction between popular and unpopular religions or orthodox and unorthodox faiths."

Senator Orrin G. Hatch, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee

I do feel strongly, after my subcommittee has carefully and objectively reviewed this case from both sides, that injustice rather than justice has been served. The Moon case sends a strong signal that if one’s views are unpopular enough, this country will find a way not to tolerate, but to convict."

Dr. Joseph E. Lowery, President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference

“…Reverend Moon was a victim of both religious and racial bigotry… May all of us in the community of conscience pray and work that such injustice may never, never happen again.”

Carlton Sherwood, Pulitzer Prize Winner and author of the book, Inquisition: The Persecution and Prosecution of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon

“Rev. Moon was tried and convicted for operating his church in much the same manner as mainstream U.S. religions do… The hypocrisy of selective investigation and prosecution in the Moon case is as astonishing as it is obvious.”

James J. Kilpatrick, Syndicated Columnist

“Viewed as a matter of criminal law, the record does not establish Moon’s guilt… Moon was denied a fair trial. It is not necessary to like this Korean guru to say, as I must, that he got a bum rap. It is small wonder that other churches are alarmed.”


Troubling Issues in the Tax Case of Reverend Moon

Most are unaware that:
The actual tax liability in question was $7,300. over a three-year period, which is below the Justice Department’s minimum standards for criminal prosecution.

Justice Department internal memos indicate that virtually all senior attorneys familiar with the case, including the chief of criminal tax prosecution, opposed prosecution of Reverend Moon, believing there was no case against him. **

Reverend Moon’s church maintained from beginning to end that the assets in question were church-owned, held in Rev. Moon’s name in trust for the church. This practice is common to many Catholic dioceses, and a host of large and small churches in America. Rev. Moon had faithfully paid tax on all assets he considered personal. Yet the government claimed that all the funds should be considered personal, and insisted on criminal rather than civil prosecution.

Virtually every federal law enforcement agency in the country spent a combined ten years and untold millions investigating Rev. Moon and found no wrongdoing. Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Carlton Sherwood called this final case “"the most intensive and expensive criminal tax investigation of any religious figure in U.S. history." IRS accountants set up offices in his church’s headquarters for two years, poring over church financial records. The account upon which they based their case had been closed years earlier, in 1975, as professional tax accountants worked to organize the young church’s finances.

Rev. Moon waived his right to a jury trial, preferring a panel of judges familiar with tax law, rather than a citizen panel with potential bias against a controversial religious leader. The government refused his request, and trial Judge Gerard Goettel imposed a jury trial upon Rev. Moon. The judge later acknowledged that a non-jury trial would have been fairer, and made a surprising and widely publicized observation: “In attempting to get an unbiased jury,” he stated, “the leaning has been heavily towards people who don’t read much, don’t talk much, and don’t know much because they are obviously the persons who start off with the least bias. Conversely, they might tend to be the less educated and less intelligent people.”*

James J. Kilpatrick, Syndicated Columnist

“Viewed as a matter of criminal law, the record does not establish Moon's guilt… Moon was denied a fair trial. It is not necessary to like this Korean guru to say, as I must, that he got a bum rap. It is small wonder that other churches are alarmed.”

Realizing that most any church could be prosecuted in the same way, more than 40 religious groups representing 160 million Americans filed “friend of the court” briefs urging the Supreme Court to overturn Rev. Moon’s conviction.

These included The National Council of Churches, the Presbyterian Church, the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, the American Baptist Churches, the National Association of Evangelicals and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Thousands of clergy across America joined the “Common Suffering Fellowship”, demanding to go to jail on Rev. Moon’s behalf. Many of these were veterans of the Civil Rights Movement, such as Rev. Ralph Abernathy, Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, Rev. James Bevel, Dr. Milton Reid, Rev. Walter Fauntroy, and others who walked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The response of the African American community was so strong and immediate, veteran columnist William Raspberry asked, “Why are these people, whose judicial concerns tend towards the legal rights of poor blacks, moved to support a controversial Korean nearly all of whose American followers are white?” The Southern Christian Leadership Conference, National Black Catholic Clergy Caucus, African Methodist Episcopal Church, and the National Conference of Black Mayors also filed briefs with the Supreme Court on Rev. Moon’s behalf.

Unanswered Questions

1. According to a Justice Department review, the same tax theory applied to convict Rev. Moon would have made him eligible for a $700,000 charitable deduction. One reviewing attorney observed it was “inconsistent to try an evasion charge in the face of a $700,000 deduction.” **

2. Why would Rev. Moon, who has invested vast amounts into numerous enterprises in the United States, seek to purposely defraud the US Government of $7,300? And if he were hiding the assets, why would he place them in an account in his own name, declaring and paying taxes on any income he considered personal?

3. Well-known Americans are routinely forgiven by the IRS for “oversights” as large as $50,000, $100,000 or more, and through civil prosecution merely asked to repay the amount owed, or given a monetary fine. Why was Rev. Moon prosecuted criminally and put in jail for $7,300?

From Jesus to Gandhi to Martin Luther King, Jr., the use of judicial authority to oppose unpopular and revolutionary leaders is common. When speeding tickets and loitering charges failed to stop Dr. King, officials re-audited previous tax returns and charged him with tax fraud in Alabama. In Rev. Moon’s case, media professionals who value truth and fairness should take care not to base new stories upon old prejudices and misinformation.


* ”INQUISITION: The Persecution & Prosecution of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon” Carlton Sherwood, 1991

** Justice Department documents available through Freedom of Information Act

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