War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in
On , U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed a law that added a 7.5% surcharge to most income tax bills , and 10% for . Johnson sold the tax as a necessary measure for the Vietnam War effort — “to give our fighting men the help they need in this hour of trial.”
Some may hear in this message a call to sacrifice. In truth, it is a call to the sense of obligation felt by all Americans. The inconveniences this demand imposes are small when measured against the contribution of a Marine on patrol in a sweltering jungle, or an airman flying through perilous skies, or a soldier 10 thousand miles from home, waiting to join his outfit on the line.
This surtax was the most explicit war tax the government had yet imposed. When Quakers began filling out their income tax returns, even some who had been wobbly and skeptical about resisting the “mixed” taxes began to feel that to pay this tax was a step they were not prepared to take.
In the issue of Friends Journal, Colin W. Bell explained why this surtax had pushed him over the line:
Line 12B — Tax Surcharge
Every person who fills out an income tax return this year and finds he owes the government some money will face the above line in print, and its implications in his conscience.
The idea of a surcharge was first presented in a broadcast to the nation by the President. It was set then in the context of Vietnam, and was to be continued “so long as the unusual expenditures associated with our efforts in Vietnam require higher revenues.” As now levied, it remains a tax necessitated by the Vietnam war, whatever justifications may be advanced for it on economic or social grounds, as a curb on inflation and so on. Mr. Johnson reiterated in his Budget message that “it is not the rise in regular budget outlays which requires a temporary tax increase, but the cost of Vietnam.”
I am miserably aware that a large portion of the regular federal income tax I pay is spent for past, present, or future wars. I have not done a number of things others have felt impelled to do to witness against taxation for war. A few people live calculatedly with incomes below the taxable level; a few refuse voluntary payment of all or part of the required taxes; some identify the non-reduction of the telephone tax with the Vietnam war and do not pay it of their own accord. For me, this line about the tax surcharge is, in a quite literal sense, the point of no return! I shall not fill it in or make voluntary payment.
I claim no logic for having arrived at this position at this time — but I do have a strong sense that this line on our tax form represents a specific and unavoidable challenge to those of us who live in comfort, or even affluence. Each of us will have to reassess the validity of those arguments we have previously used to justify our tax payments. Indeed, the individual answer will have to be found not at the level of argumentation, but at deep levels of inward conviction.
Is it easier, or more difficult, to resist tax conscription than conscription of the person? Is it fair to make an analogy between the son’s moral dilemma concerning his body and the father’s concerning his money? Most of us older Friends are law-abiding persons for whom the idea of practicing any sort of civil disobedience is deeply distressing. We do, however, frequently recognize the purity of motive of some of our contemporaries who practice it; and we unite in finding inspiration in those who down the years have enriched the Quaker witness by obeying higher laws which brought them into conflict with the ordinances of their times.
Most of us accept the principle of taxation to pay for governmental services. We want to bear our right and proper share of the tax obligation, and many would uncomplainingly accept heavier taxation for constructive purposes. Our imaginations are lively enough to envisage possible consequences of tax refusal, and we are not blind to the fact of the government’s power to collect unpaid taxes and impose penalties which would in fact increase the total paid.
What, then, shall we do about “Line 12B — Tax Surcharge”? Our bodies are not conscripted because they are not useful for war service. The young must face that heaviest of all demands. We are, however, contemplating a quite specific induction notice, though at an infinitely lower level of sacrifice — the call-up of our money for war service. This year, in a most pointed way, we who fill out our tax forms cannot escape giving an answer of some sort to this draft of our resources. It is an answer that, I believe, can be made only after those deep quakings of spirit which earned us the nickname we prize and would like to honor in our lives.
In the issue, Philip Dudley Woodbridge wrote in to explain why he was “refusing to pay part of the income tax due at this time as a symbol of my intention not to support wars — past, present, or future.… I will not support this mass murder and the possible destruction of mankind.”
At ’s New York Yearly Meeting, according to a report in the Journal,
Realizing that Friends often are called to different witness and that we have a corporate responsibility for each other, we decided that organizations of New York Yearly Meeting should support the witness of individual Friends by refusing to help the government collect (out of salaries due) taxes that these Friends have in conscience refused to pay.
The discussion of the issue of war taxes was long and difficult and required us to grapple with the realization that while breaking the law may seem to violate the consciences of some, refusing to break certain laws may violate those of others.
This situation creates a constant tension that cannot be resolved by each going his own way but only by all of us continuing to labor together in love. In light of this, the Meeting finally agreed that its offices should not pay the telephone excise tax, which is earmarked for the Vietnam war.
Newton Garver later wrote in to give his impressions about the New York Yearly Meeting, and he included these remarks, which seem to partially contradict the above report:
It was urged that Yearly Meeting refuse to pay the federal excise tax on its telephone bills and also that the Yearly Meeting treasurer not withhold or pay to the government federal income taxes of those who are conscientiously opposed to paying them. Eventually the first sort of corporate tax refused was approved [sic] and the second not.
The issue is a powerful one, and I have mixed feelings. On the one hand I am gratified that the Yearly Meeting feels called on to offer resistance to the war machine. On the other hand I was disappointed that there were so few qualms about the appropriateness of tax refusal for this purpose. There were, of course, qualms about doing something illegal, but they seemed the same as the qualms about sending medical aid to all parts of Vietnam, whereas the situations are fundamentally different. Prohibiting humanitarian aid is evil in itself whereas taxation is not — and both the income tax withholding and the telephone excise tax are, although introduced with wartime rhetoric, reasonably equitable and efficient forms of taxation.
Tax refusal inevitably hits at the manner of taxation and the lifeblood of government, as well as at the purposes for which the money is spent. Tax refusal is therefore a desperate measure and also relatively unsatisfactory, the trouble being that it hits broadside and lacks the clear focus of acts like sailing Phoenix to Haiphong or reading the names of the war dead at the Capitol. This does not mean that tax refusal is wrong. Although I stopped refusing some months ago, feeling that I was refusing more and enjoying it less, I refused to pay the telephone excise tax for about two years. Like many others, I was desperate to stand somehow against the all too civilized brutality of our government in Vietnam. What troubled me at Yearly Meeting was that these tax refusal actions were presented as if they were clear and unassailable pacifist measures rather than steps of desperation. Perhaps a confession of our desperation would have been more appropriate, but I do not know how others feel.
The issue printed some excerpts from the deliberations that had taken place during the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s proceedings. Among these was this paragraph:
Twenty cents of every tax dollar is used in actual killing of our fellow man. Friends recalled the statement by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting on the use of our bodies and our resources, which has never been rescinded. That Minute, reading as follows, might well be our statement in : “It is the judgment of this Meeting that a tax levied for the purchasing of drums, colours, or for other warlike uses cannot be paid consistently with our Christian testimonies.” What is important is that all Friends search their hearts to decide at what point they must take their stand.
In the issue, Kenneth H. Champney wrote in to ask for advice on how to deal with a tax-resisting employee. “I believe in government, in laws, and in taxes to support constructive activity. Yet it is evident that the Federal income tax is largely a war tax. Last month, a young conscientious objector told me: ‘If you withhold my tax you will be forcing me to participate in killing.’ I could not withhold his tax, and so notified the Internal Revenue Service. I would be interested in knowing the experience of others who have been in a position similar to mine.”
A report on the Pacific Yearly Meeting in the same issue included the brief note that “La Jolla Meeting leafleted the local draft board and refused to pay the telephone tax.” The Missouri Valley Friends Conference also reported in a later issue that they “approved minutes on [such subjects as] withholding taxes for military purposes, and exploring the possibility of a peace tax beyond the One Percent More program.” And the Green Pastures Quarterly Meeting “approved a minute that the United States’ continuation of the Vietnam war was morally wrong, that it questioned the moral rightness of paying taxes to support it, and that it gave ‘approval and loving support’ to those who conscientiously refused to pay such taxes.”
In one of two “called sessions” of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in , “Friends considered tax refusal as a possible form of corporate witness against the war in Vietnam.”
Friends suggested several techniques. One was a refund claim, such as the one filed by American Friends Service Committee in the First District Court of Philadelphia against the Internal Revenue Service. It is based on an alleged violation by IRS of the First Amendment in its imposition of an involuntary withholding tax. In the AFSC case, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting will be a “friend of the court.” The Meeting, awaiting the outcome of this suit, at the request of three of its employees, is holding in escrow in a savings account income taxes withheld from their salaries. The Meeting also has refused to pay levies imposed by IRS on the salaries of employees who have not paid the telephone tax.
Young Friends pleaded for sharing and sacrifice instead of trying to find ingenious ways of evading the payment of income taxes. “Americans would rather be dead than poor,” one of them said.
The meeting did not reach consensus, and agreed to meet again.
The caption to a photo from a “Called Meeting for Worship and Declarations of Freedom from Conscription” noted that “Eight individuals expressed their intentions to refuse the payment of war taxes.”
A letter-to-the-editor in the issue from Lloyd C. Shank advocated “the ‘sneaky’ way” of tax resistance — comparing crafty tax evasion to the necessarily surreptitious illegality of the Underground Railroad. “After all, the punishment for cheating is far less than for murdering. And ‘cheating’ is only an oppressive government’s name for a good man’s refusal to murder.”
I believe… that often we are blinded to practical resistance by our over-conscientious concern with so-called deep ethical implications. Jesus cleansed the temple — not a profound decision or deed (two angry boys might have done the same) — but a practical demonstration against religious hypocrisy and greed.
If Christ had consulted the religious community of hair-splitters, he never would have received a go-ahead. He obeyed the Spirit: Simple, sweet, quick, effective.
Betty Stone did not agree. She wrote in to contrast “the ‘sneaky’ way” with that of “the experts on effective nonviolent action:”
Jesus, who demands thoroughgoing honesty (“purity of spirit”) and Gandhi, who said, “truth is even more important than love.” How far could Dr. King have gone had he lacked character and credibility?
Stone may have overplayed her hand when she then attacked the Underground Railroad analogy by attacking the Underground Railroad itself, saying that perhaps it “represented violent treatment of slaveholders… [that] led to secession and the Civil War.” Instead, she felt, a more non-violent solution would have been one of “love in action” that was designed to transform the slaveholders — for instance “if large numbers of Friends had combined to compensate slave owners for slaves whom they aided to escape? What if Friends had gone to the plantations and offered to do the work of the slaves who had escaped — to take their beatings and lynchings and to train the slaves by example in the use of transforming power in their own behalf? Could Friends have popularized the principle of emancipation with just compensation?”