War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1987

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

The question of how Quaker meetings and other organizations ought to respond to the tug-of-war between the IRS and their war tax resisting employees was among the major concerns of Quakers in , as can be seen in the pages of the Friends Journal.

The IRS has long been trigger-happy with its “frivolous filing” penalty. According to the issue:

Adding “signed involuntarily under penalty of statutory punishment” to the IRS form 1040 will no longer bring a fine for a “frivolous” return. In a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in Montana, a district court ruled that Donna Todd of Billings, Mont., was protected by the First Amendment when she typed the above on her 1040 form. The IRS is appealing the ruling; meanwhile, it has told its agents to refrain from imposing the frivolous-return penalty against taxpayers who editorialize on their return.

The agency didn’t seem to want to learn its lesson, and was still overapplying this penalty until very recently. See The Picket Line for for another example of the agency being forced to back down on this issue.

A profile of Barbara Reynolds appeared in the issue, penned by her daughter, Jessica Shaver. It focused on her war tax resistance. Excerpts:

My mother is hardly your stereotypical tax evader. At 70, she lives on Social Security, and her sole assets are a small apartment in downtown Long Beach, California, a beat-up Chevette (bright green), an electronic typewriter, and a six-toed cat named Marmalade.

But she has been a deliberate and most determined resister of taxes . After years of courteous correspondence, responding to explanations of her position with repeated warnings marked “Past Due. Final Notice,” the IRS quietly closed in.

One day recently, her checking account balance was $131.14. The next day it was zero. She tried to make an electronic withdrawal from her savings account, which had held $799. A message on the screen reported, “Funds not available.” She was left with $3.06 in cash.

Only days before, Long Beach City College had voted her Senior Citizen of the Year. At a luncheon in her honor, her efforts on behalf of Indochinese refugees were lauded, and she received a pen set inscribed “Barbara Reynolds, Woman of Peace.”

, she had dinner with Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone, the Japanese government having paid her way to Hiroshima for the 40th anniversary of the first atomic bomb used on people. Because of her many years of service to the survivors-entirely voluntary-she was the first woman granted honorary citizenship in that city.

A few months earlier, members of the War Resisters League named her their Person of the Year. In , she was selected as one of 14 “Wonder Women” — women more than 40 years old recognized by the Wonder Woman Foundation for outstanding contributions to society. The foundation flew her to New York for a press conference with Bill Moyers. Polly Bergen introduced her and presented her award for “striving for peace and equality.”

So why is a little old white-haired “woman of peace” withholding taxes from the United States government? It is precisely as a woman of peace that she withholds taxes. She believes her stand on taxes to be consistent with her commitment to a world without war. She doesn’t want her taxes, in whole or in part, to go for defense.

She has been up front with the IRS about her motives. In one of her letters, she wrote, “Having spent 18 years in Hiroshima working with victims of our atomic bombs, I can only say that never, so far as it is in my power, will any portion of my income go to the government as long as it continues to base its economy and its foreign policy upon the development, stockpiling, and deployment of nuclear weapons and missile systems.”

For her, the honorable way to avoid paying taxes is to avoid owing them. So she studiously attempts to keep her income below the minimum taxable level and gives generously to deductible causes.

In , however, Mum had to sell the old family homestead in Ohio. In spite of her best intentions, the house had appreciated in value, and she wasn’t eligible for the one-time capital gains exemption. She was appalled to find that she owed the government $1,189.

She paid the money but she didn’t pay it to the IRS. She sent $667 to the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account and $522 to Friends United Meeting Peace Tax Fund. CMTC calls itself “a mechanism to accept payments in anticipation of legislative action” now pending to create a federal Peace Tax Fund. The FUM Peace Tax Fund is for members who wish their taxes to be used for life-affirming activities. When and if such a federal fund is created, both accounts will have all individual deposits transferred to it.

In the meantime, because of penalties, she still owes more than $400. It will be interesting to see how the IRS claims its remaining debts. Maybe they’ll garnishee the six-toed cat.

A postscript noted: “[Reynolds] has received notice that the IRS has placed a lien on her property for $162.79 in taxes owed for and has seized $100.83 from her checking account. ”

In the issue was a fantasy by Charles R. Sides that imagined a more “user friendly” personal computer. Excerpt:

I chose the Home Accountant which neatly arranges my expenses and income in spreadsheet form. After booting the program I began to record my written checks. A major expense for the month of April is my reconciliation of the past year’s taxes and the quarterly payment for the next year. When I entered the check number, it responded correctly and asked to whom it was paid. I entered IRS. Next question was the amount. I entered. At prompting to enter my message the Corona suddenly asked, “Do you know what portion of your taxes goes to the defense department?” “Have you contacted your congressperson concerning the World Peace Tax Fund?” “Have you considered withholding your taxes as a protest against the administration’s military position?” Unable to answer in good conscience, I exited the program.

Was this “user Friendly” computer going to continue its assault on my conscience? I hadn’t counted on that possibility.

The “War Tax Concerns Committee” of New England Yearly Meeting — Cushman Anthony, Elizabeth Boardman, Alan Eccleston, Finley Perry, and George Watson — published a statement in the same issue:

New England Yearly Meeting, through various minutes, has declared that refusal to pay all or part of one’s income tax is an appropriate way to refuse to participate in war making, for those who feel led to engage in such a witness. A number of members of the yearly meeting who have felt so called have been offered guidance and support through the Peace and Social Concerns Committee, the Committee on Sufferings, and the NEYM War Tax Alternatives Fund.

War tax resistance is usually an individual witness rising out of the Peace Testimony. However, if one of our members who wishes to make this witness is also an employee of the yearly meeting, some additional considerations come into play. The question presently facing us was raised by the Personnel Committee: Should NEYM refuse to act as the federal government’s agent in collecting — by withholding and paying over to the IRS — taxes of an employee who refuses on the basis of conscience to pay war taxes?

The problem is not new. Action has already been taken by other organizations, including Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, London Yearly Meeting, American Friends Service Committee, and the General Conference Mennonite Church. Each of these organizations has wrestled with it for a number of years, and after careful consideration, each refused to withhold taxes. Nobody yet knows the full consequences of any of these decisions. There are difficult questions involving individual conscience on both sides.

We note some of the concerns and reasoning of the Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting in taking this step. Some Friends saw the Society as having become a little too comfortable in its peace testimony and saw in this witness a gesture to all peace loving people. It was noted that since Quakers are people who put principles into practice, the yearly meeting as an employer of conscientious objectors should assist them in their witness. On the other hand, concerns were raised that should a witness be made, there would be criticism that “it was neither logical to juggle with the mathematics of tax monies, nor moral to opt out of the give and take of a democratic society.” Another observation was that Friends “from John Woolman to draft resisters had been careful to place no one but themselves at risk,” whereas this refusal to withhold would place the yearly meeting itself at risk.

In a letter to the Board of Inland Revenue (), the clerk of the Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting noted, “The name Meeting for Sufferings derives from when Friends met to give support to those of their members who suffered in diverse ways for conscience’s sake and that at various times the Society of Friends corporately has recognized a religious obligation to stand with individuals whose commitment of conscience may not currently be recognized by the laws of this country.”

In deciding this question for ourselves as a yearly meeting, there is a case for joining the witness as an employer by refusing to withhold income tax money or refusing to forward withheld money to the IRS; and there is a case for continuing to withhold and to forward money to the IRS as required by law.

The Case for Continuing to Withhold as Required by Law

  1. The United States has one of the most effective tax systems in the world. Its success rests on the voluntary compliance of U.S. citizens. Undermining this system by noncompliance with the law does great harm to the system.
  2. Refusing to pay withheld taxes to the government would put us in opposition to the Internal Revenue System. Our real dispute, however, is with the Department of Defense. Consequently, this effort misdirects our energy and our witness away from that portion of governmental power which we would choose to oppose.
  3. Failing to pay all of the tax money would not directly reduce the war making budget. By legal process, the IRS would almost certainly collect the money plus penalties. Even if it did not, the military would get its full appropriation anyway and would be unaffected by the witness.
  4. This action could well jeopardize some assets of the yearly meeting, the standing of the yearly meeting as a taxdeductible organization, and the officers of the yearly meeting. Since some members of NEYM are not in agreement with the war tax objection position, they should not be asked to put themselves and the yearly meeting in jeopardy for a cause in which they do not believe.
  5. The yearly meeting is supporting and should continue to support individual war tax witness actions. If the yearly meeting does not join the witness as employer, its employees will not be placed in any worse position than Quakers employed elsewhere.
  6. A number of members of the yearly meeting feel required by their consciences to pay all the taxes which they owe to the federal government. A decision by the yearly meeting to refuse to pay employees’ withheld taxes would violate the consciences of these Friends.

The Case for Joining the Witness as Employer

  1. We live in a world where there are in excess of 15 million deaths a year by starvation (41,000 a day) while $660 billion goes to military expenditures. It is estimated that just $60 billion, or less than 10 percent of all military expenditures, would eliminate starvation on this planet. Purchasing weapons of war not only increases the likelihood of killing, it causes thousands of deaths each day by depriving people of the sustenance needed for their survival. As a religious organization in a country that is one of the leaders in the arms race, we have a clear responsibility to address this issue. Joining a witness as employer gives the yearly meeting an opportunity to take concrete action as a religious body on this critical problem.
  2. Taking this position is not a threat to the voluntary tax system, since it is an open and honest witness, and tends to encourage others to be open and honest in their dealings with the IRS. It is the creeping tendency to be dishonest in declaring one’s financial situation that threatens to undercut our tax system.
  3. If this witness is viewed as a threat to the voluntary tax system, there is a remedy at hand — passage of the World Peace Tax Fund Act in the U.S. Congress. New England Yearly Meeting’s action would work towards passage of that act, which would benefit individuals in the Society of Friends, as well as our country as a whole.
  4. Friends’ testimony on peace is one of our central experiences of truth. The weight of this issue in our world calls us to act with clarity and resolve, regardless of risk and possible complications. The fact that the tax may be collected does not diminish the value of this conscientious objection to war.
  5. Taking this action as a yearly meeting gives us an opportunity to define the differences between our beliefs and those of the U.S. culture in general. This could then strengthen the resolve in individual Friends to speak out and take action in regard to our war making society.
  6. Other Quaker organizations have already begun this witness, and our standing with them adds our testimony to theirs. This amplifies the message to the world of Friends regarding war and peace, and at the same time will contribute to the unification of Friends.

We urge all Friends to weigh these considerations prayerfully and to seek clarity on how the yearly meeting should respond if one of its employees requests that it support him or her by refusing to pay withheld taxes to the government.

As an example of Friends weighing such considerations, the same issue reported on a meeting of 35 people from 21 Friends organizations at the Pendle Hill center “to discuss their responsibilities when employees are conscientious objectors to the payment of war taxes.” Excerpts:

Wallace Collett, clerk of the Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns which organized the conference, noted that this may be the flrst time so many Quaker organizations have come together to deal with the issue of how individual conscience flows into our corporate organizations.

In a talk formed by images of “Stones and the Builder” drawn from 1 Peter 2, Kara Cole, Administrative Secretary of Friends United Meeting, noted that Scripture shows how the lonely and isolated flnd themselves formed into a community which is the temple of God. The issues for the conference revolved around choices, risk, and obedience, as they relate to appropriate use of our taxes. Kara pointed out that when we choose Jesus, we choose to be with one who was alone in prayer, who was misunderstood, who was the living stone rejected by people. However, we also find that we become living stones. Not only can we find the temple in one another, we also find one another in the temple. This image set the tone for the remainder of the conference, as participants sought ways to allow our institutions to be incarnated as communities under the influence of religious concern.

Representatives from the Friends Journal, the Friends World Committee for Consultation, Friends United Meeting, London Yearly Meeting, the American Friends Service Committee, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, and other Quaker organizations and groups were able to share firsthand experience with ways Quaker employers have responded to staff members’ conscientious objection to payment of war taxes. A panel of three lawyers presented a particularly helpful analysis of the legal situation. These materials and some queries and advices that emerged from small group discussions will be revised and made available by the Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns.

While participants struggled with complex technical issues associated with war tax resistance, there seemed to be agreement that Quaker institutions have a corporate responsibility to assist their employees in responding as openly and honestly as possible. Employers were admonished to develop policies to clarify the situation for the employees. Employees and employers were urged to work together to avoid any form of tax evasion. Employers need to develop policies so that their employees are not put in the position of having to commit fraud to gain control of income that would be subject to withholding. Employees need to practice full disclosure of their actual tax liability and redirect refused taxes to constructive programs. Individuals were urged to seek clearness with their faith community (monthly meeting or church) before engaging in this witness.

A letter received from Marion Franz, Executive Director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, told Friends of the importance of corporate witness on war taxes. She finds that most Congressional staffers — who are rarely asked to consider rights of individual conscience — sit up and take notice when informed that the issue is not just of concern to some individuals, but that organizations have begun to take stands in cooperation with their employees. Bob Hull, of the Mennonite General Conference, reported that New Call to Peacemaking has tentative plans to hold a conference on war tax concerns for Mennonite, Brethren, and Quaker employers in .

This conference, somewhat delayed, was announced in the issue:

The Challenge to church organizations from employees requesting their federal taxes not be withheld will be the topic of a conference jointly sponsored in by New Call to Peacemaking and the Quaker War Tax Concerns Committee.

A note in the back of the issue said:

Conscientious tax resisters who are forthright in their dealings with the IRS are unlikely to face a criminal penalty, according to Peter Goldberger in War Tax Concerns: Options and Consequences. This booklet offers the layperson an overview of the IRS tax collection process for those who may be considering war tax resistance…

A second note concerned the booklet Taxes and Idolatry which concerned “the forgotten biblical witness in which taxation is seen as an affront to God.”

The issue included an article that noted in passing that at the London Yearly Meeting “[i]n recent years… two clerks were threatened with imprisonment on the issue of whether the yearly meeting should withhold for taxation purposes a part of employees’ pay.”

That issue also announced an “seminar/lobbying day” on behalf of the Peace Tax Fund, and an “National War Tax Resistance Action Conference” — which is to say, a NWTRCC gathering.

A letter from Geoff Tischbein in the issue is a good and rare example of the fourth variety of war tax resister I mentioned in my typology of the American war tax resistance movement back in . Tischbein takes issue with the assertion in the article from the War Tax Concerns Committee of New England Yearly Meeting that their real dispute is with the Department of Defense, not the IRS.

As a war tax resister, I’ve often struggled with this question, and for myself, I do not feel that my dispute is with either. Most immediately, my dispute is with the U.S. Congress and its refusal to grant conscientious objectors to military taxes the same right of conscience granted to conscientious objectors to military service.

The legal arguments are manifold and include, among others, free exercise of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and international law which involves Article 6 of the U.S. Constitution and the Nuremberg principles. Indeed, much of the thinking and correspondence of the founding fathers indicates that freedom of conscience was a principle they strongly believed in, but one they did not specifically list in the Constitution.

I suppose, if I were to follow the thread of responsibility to the spool, it would ultimately lead to the entire population of the United States that, in some macabre contortion of expediency, has put the welfare of the state above the rights of the individual, more closely a description of communism than of Western-style democracy.

Ultimately, I feel that war tax resistance is a religious issue and no governmental power has any authority in the case; it is strictly a personal concern to be resolved, individually, with God. Thus our goal, as I see it, is to convince Congress of the religious nature of this issue.

The “Sufferings” column in that issue concerned Jerilynn C. Prior:

[Prior], a member of Vancouver (Canada) Meeting who paid into Conscience Canada’s Peace Trust Fund that portion of her Canadian federal income taxes which goes for military purposes, has had her appeal to the Tax Court of Canada rejected. In , Revenue Canada assessed the amount of tax that Jerilynn had withheld from her income tax. She appealed the assessment, but was denied the appeal. The forthcoming hearing will be in Vancouver; the case will eventually go to a Federal Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court of Canada as a test case of the Charter of Rights provisions for freedom of conscience and religion. Legal costs will probably exceed $100,000. Donations, payable to the Peace Tax Legal Fund, may be sent to The Society for Charter Clarification…

Prior’s case got a more in-depth look in the issue. Excerpts:

Jerilynn Prior, a member of Vancouver (B.C.) Meeting, will be the first person to claim in court that the new Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms provides the right not to pay for war, and she is prepared to follow this claim through the courts to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Her first war tax resistance was in with refusal to pay the 10 percent telephone tax which was reimposed specifically to support the Vietnam war. Throughout the time she had an income in the United States she withheld various kinds of taxes and put the money into recognized charities when there was no peace trust fund.

She became a Quaker in Cambridge (Mass.) Meeting in .…

She went to Canada in and became a Canadian citizen in . Beginning in (which was the year the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted) she consistently refused to pay the government that portion of her federal income tax which would otherwise be spent for war purposes. She paid this money into Conscience Canada’s Peace Tax Fund.

Her decision to withhold the portion of her income tax which would otherwise be spent for war purposes and to deposit it in a Peace Tax Fund was made from a deep-felt conviction that war is wrong. Her appeal in the tax court in against a ministerial decision that she should be assessed the amount she deducted in was pursued with the same spiritually-based conviction. And when the tax court ruled against her, her decision to take the case through the federal court system was with the conviction that she could not honestly teach peace to her children while paying for war. She feels that to have a strong belief and not to act on it is hypocrisy. She insists that her action is not a political one and maintains she is not trying to change the government or the Income Tax Act. She affirms the government of Canada and is proud to be in that country. She does not wish to change government policy on taxation but merely wants a way in which to pay taxes and at the same time uphold her conscience and religious beliefs. When asked if the government could assure her that none of her tax money would go to military purposes, would she pay the full amount of tax to the government, she replied, “I certainly would.”

Jerilynn has specifically asked that these legal proceedings not be referred to as “her test case,” for her action is being upheld by many others and is taken on behalf of all.…

A great deal of media attention was aroused when the decision by the tax court judge was made public. No doubt an even greater media coverage will be given to the next court decision. Such publicity gives to those who disagree an opportunity to voice their opinions, to hear responses, and to give the subject more thought. When it increases public awareness of the urgent need for nonviolent solutions to disagreements, that is, in itself, an accomplishment. We hope that the final Supreme Court decision will be affirmative and will set the stage for other equally sincere efforts in Canada, and perhaps elsewhere, toward a more peaceful world.

Prior’s Federal Court appeal was denied in and the Supreme Court declined to take up her case in . She appealed further, to the UN Human Rights Committee, but they too refused to hear her appeal.

Another article in the issue concerned the Norway Yearly Meeting. Excerpt:

A growing feeling of guilty conscience among members led to drafting a letter to members of the government and various peace groups about the peace tax issue. The meeting asked that ways be found to direct tax money from those who wish to humanitarian, ecological, or promoting peace instead of to the defense budget.

Leah B. Felton had a letter-to-the-editor printed in the issue that covered little new ground, and discussed war taxes (though not war tax resistance) and promoted the Peace Tax Fund as if nobody had ever heard of these things before. It’s notable perhaps only for the opening phrase: “No doubt the overwhelming majority of Friends pay income tax…”

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