WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court yesterday refused to review the tax-fraud conviction of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the Unification Church leader who faces 18 months' imprisonment beginning June 18 and a $25,000 fine.
The court, without dissent, rejected Moon's appeal despite an extraordinary high-powered campaign to convince the justices that the sentence raised fundamental questions of religious freedom.
Dozens of civil liberties, civil rights and religious organizations, as well as numerous newspaper editorialists, had urged the court to review the conviction.
Dr. Mose Durst, president of the Unification Church in the United States, said that yesterday was a "day of shame" for America - the first time a worldwide religious figure has faced prison in the United States.
"We believe he (Moon) is the central figure through whom God will work in this age," Durst said in a telephone interview. "…For a nation to abuse this man, God forbid what's going to happen to this country. As I read the Bible, any time a people abuses its priests or religious leaders, there is a tragedy that follows."
Durst said that Moon, 64, was informed of the court's action yesterday morning at his Irvington NY estate, a half-hour north of New York City.
"He spent the morning comforting those around him," Durst said. He said that Moon was prepared to go to prison is necessary. "As with the entire process, he will fulfill the law to the T," Durst said.
Moon's lead attorney, Harvard Law School professor Laurence H. Tribe, said yesterday that he would continue his efforts to the District Court level to keep Moon out of federal prison in Allenwood, PA.
Tribe said he would present new information to bolster his claim that Moon was persecuted because of his religious activities and beliefs.
The federal government had told the court that the case raised no significant constitutional issues.
The case, which stemmed from Moon's failure to pay taxes on the interest earned on more than $1.7 million, involved a "massive" and systematic effort to defraud the government and obstruct justice, including the manufacturing and backdating of documents, the government told the court.
Moon founded the Unification Church in Korea 30 years ago as a Christian revivalist religion and now claims a worldwide membership of 3 million, a US membership 30,000 and substantial business interests worth millions of dollars.
Moon and an associate, Takeru Kamiyama, were convicted by a jury in July 1982 of intentionally failing to pay taxes on the interest earned from more than $1.7 million in personal fraud.