War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1985

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

There was lots about war tax resistance in the Friends Journal in , including an active debate about the worth of the World Peace Tax Fund legislation.

In the issue Jill Penberthy shared how a “committee on clearness” organized by the Middlebury (Vermont) Friends Meeting helped her decide how to use an anticipated IRS levy as an outreach opportunity. Excerpts:

…I struggled to figure out how to respond to an Internal Revenue Service computer’s $1,800 bill for taxes, penalties, and interest on my account withheld as a war tax protest. I also remembered a tai chi class in which we were taught to yield with the aggressor, using his or her energy and our own creativity to change the process. I was puzzled about how to use these concepts with the IRS. The computer was not listening to my numerous letters explaining my position as a war tax resister. I was unable to contact anyone within the IRS with whom I could share my witness.

I brought my quandary to Middlebury Friends Meeting in Vermont and asked for a committee on clearness. We gathered at my home and in the silence were moved to initiate a Peace Witness Fund under the care of the meeting that would be transferred to a local bank for seizure by the IRS. The process became one of grace among us and within the Middlebury community.

The committee asked to share the penalty and commitment to peace represented by the withheld taxes. Quaker history bears witness to conscientious objection through tax resistance. We struggled to move beyond resistance to “yielding and overcoming,” and this we did with the guidance of the Spirit.

Letters of purpose were sent to Friends and sympathetic supporters requesting acknowledgment of the commitment to peace and offering a share in the assessed penalty. They were asked to send copies of the purpose to elected officials and the IRS, and to join us on the Green in the center of Middlebury for singing and dancing before depositing the Peace Witness Fund in the bank.

We announced the peace gathering in the local papers — “Everyone is welcome.” At the gathering we distributed leaflets explaining our concern about the present military escalation and preparation for nuclear war. Babies and siblings, parents and grandparents, and retired military men all joined hands on the Green in a dance of peace, recognizing the Light within each of us. “We are all one planet, all one people on earth,” sang a myriad of voices.

During the silence that followed, a professor from France said, “There are people you don’t even know about who are supporting you. Let that be your strength.” Another witness said, “This isn’t happening in my home state. I’ll take it home with me.”…

…Our group proceeded up the hill and into the local bank where tellers and customers witnessed our Peace Fund deposit.

A brief note in the same issue said that “[s]ignatures of war tax resisters are being collected by the War Tax Resistance National Ad Campaign for placement in newspaper ads in ” and gave an address for the campaign. A second brief announcement read:

A Peace Tax Fund has been established by Friends United Meeting. The FUM general board established an escrow account this past fall into which war tax resisters who belong to FUM may deposit taxes withheld from the government. Should the IRS take action against the depositor, the money may be withdrawn later. Income generated from the fund will be used to finance FUM peace and justice programs. For more information…

The issue brought news that the Palo Alto (California) Meeting had endorsed phone tax resistance: “In keeping with our Peace Testimony,” a minute from the Meeting read, “Friends are encouraged to refuse payment of taxes which would otherwise be used primarily for killing and war preparation.” The Meeting suggested redirecting resisted taxes to an alternative fund set up by the Pacific Yearly Meeting in .

At the Friends World Committee for Consultation meeting in , the group formed a new committee: “Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns.” According to a Journal article on the meeting:

Sponsorship of the FCWTC followed two broad-based consultations the FWCC initiated in on questions of conscience raised by the use of Friends’ taxes for war and war preparations. Drawing upon decades of experience with conscientious objection to conscription, representatives of all Quaker organizations formed the FCWTC to prepare a series of papers for discussion and to organize regional conferences and a conference for Quaker employers on the complex issues involved.

A later issue mentioned Wallace T. Collett as the new Committee’s clerk and Linda Coffin as “staff.” It reported:

The FCWTC initially is focusing on three areas of work. The first will be publication of educational materials, with the hope of reaching a broader understanding among Friends of the concern about war taxes. The pamphlets will cover such topics as the biblical guidance for war tax refusal; Quaker history and recent Quaker statements on war tax concerns; recent experiences of individual Friends; positions of other churches and Christian denominations on the payment of war taxes; legal issues, IRS codes, and alternatives for those with war tax concerns; spiritual and rational bases for war tax concerns; possible legislative remedies for conscientious objectors; and a general annotated bibliography.

The second area is consultative services to Quaker employers who are involved in the issue through the actions of their employees and through their own role in the collection of taxes. A conference for Quaker employers is being planned for or .

The third area is facilitating consultation and study throughout the Society of Friends through a series of regional conferences. The first of these conferences, “Paying for War; Paying for Peace,” was held in Washington D.C., , under FWCC auspices. The FCWTC also hopes to develop informal ties with other groups working on the issue of conscience and war taxes, including both those of other denominations and those outside the United States.

Barbara Harrison mentioned in a letter-to-the-editor in the issue that as her husband has an income that “meets most of our needs (wants, though, are beyond us), and as I wish to limit the amount of money we pay in taxes that goes for military expenses, I avoid most paid employment” and that this has freed up her time to volunteer to help at a local elementary school.

The issue brought an update on Karl Meyer’s “cabbage patch resistance” technique:

The Internal Revenue Service seized a trailer and a station wagon from Karl Meyer of Chicago during the night of . Early two IRS officers came to his door and served him with a levy for $20,160 in frivolous tax return penalties and a “Notice of Seizure” for the vehicles they had already removed. In , Karl Meyer, a long-time peace activist and pacifist, filed a daily protest tax return to the IRS — 365 in all. On the day after the seizure, about 30 supporters joined him in a protest demonstration at the Chicago IRS office. Meanwhile, he has been taking public transportation to his work as a carpenter.

The same issue also mentioned a sort of round-about form of tax resistance being pursued by Lucy & Sheldon Clark and Dorothy & Edward Snyder, Quakers from Baltimore, who were filing a lawsuit against the government for the return of that portion of their taxes that they believed had been spent on illegal acts of military aggression in Central America. The issue noted that the suit was dismissed.

That issue also mentioned a seminar on war tax resistance would be among those offered at “The Rise of Christian Conscience, a national conference of Christian nonviolence and civil disobedience sponsored by Sojourners Peace Ministry.” It also noted a quarterly newsletter from a General Conference Mennonite Church-associated group called “God and Caesar” concerning conscientious objection to military taxes.

The Lake Erie Yearly Meeting in approved a minute that “suggested that Friends General Conference set up a fund for Friends who wish to withhold the military portion of their taxes.”

In a weekend retreat was planned in Voluntown, Connecticut to discuss “the Philosophy of War Tax Resistance”. Bob Bady appears to have been an (the?) organizer.

The issue noted that NWTRCC had published some brochures on topics like “Your Taxes Pay for the War in Central America,” “Your Taxes Pay for the Nuclear Arms Race,” and “Your Telephone Tax Pays for War” as well as “a Telephone War Tax Resistance Poster Kit.”

The issue noted that the IRS had seized an alternative fund from a Meeting to collect a tax debt:

Four IRS agents seized Craig MacDonald’s pickup truck on in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., in lieu of his federal income taxes. Craig MacDonald, a member of Purchase (N.Y.) Meeting, attends Cornwall (N.Y.) Meeting, where he is clerk of the Peace Committee. The IRS had ordered Craig to pay $1,440.85, which includes interest and penalty charges. The original amount of taxes owed, $1,159.90, was put into the Stamford-Greenwich Friends Meeting Peace Tax Fund. The IRS seized this money in addition to the truck. The IRS explained in a letter that it did not know about the account until after seizure of the truck. Neither truck nor money has been returned to Craig. To pay the additional IRS charges, Cornwall Meeting has set up a fund for suffering for Craig.

The same issue noted that the Quaker Council for European Affairs had published a second edition of its pamphlet, Paying for Peace containing “facts for Friends concerned about conscientious objection to military taxation,” and that Conscience Canada had published a booklet called The First Freedom: Freedom of Conscience and Religion in Canada to promote the Maple Leaf State’s version of the peace tax fund proposal.

The “Peace Tax Fund” Debate

In the issue was an article by Christopher Hodgkin entitled “Second Thoughts on the World Peace Tax Fund.” Excerpts:

The World Peace Tax Fund ranks almost as a motherhood-and-apple pie issue for Friends.… [It] now offers a legal basis for conscientious objection to taxation along with the chance to support a national, tax-supported peace fund.

Indeed, a multitude of pacifist organizations have endorsed the fund, including such Friends organizations as the American Friends Service Committee, the Friends Committee on National Legislation, Friends United Meeting, Friends General Conference, and various monthly, quarterly, and yearly meetings. Such heavyweight support is impressive. It is also, however, a nagging cause for concern. Quakers have historically, and with good reason, been religious “contrarians.” Often the proposals with the widest support need the closest scrutiny. Truth most often comes on tiptoe and alone. Is there something in this well-regarded and well-supported measure that needs to be more carefully examined?

[Proponents argue that] Conscientious objection to conscription of the body is recognized; why shouldn’t conscientious objection to conscription of the dollar be recognized equally?

Unfortunately, they are not parallel for two principal reasons. First, one’s person and one’s dollars are not the same thing. One’s person is a creation of God; one’s dollars are a creation of the state. Jesus dealt with the different responsibilities for the two quite succinctly; I do not need to add to his teaching.

Second, military conscription and taxation have completely different scopes. The draft is a single-purpose instrument. It conscripts U.S. men for military duty. It has no other dimension. It is relatively simple to say that one accepts or rejects military service, and therefore accepts or rejects conscription.…

The income tax, on the other hand, is a multipurpose vehicle that supports the entire range of programs and activities of our government.…

Assume for a moment that our government conscripted people, as it conscripts dollars, to perform the complete range of government activities. Does anyone doubt that the equivalent of C.O. status would be granted to, say, Catholics to exempt them from performing Medicare abortions? If we conscripted people to teach the theory of evolution as truth in our schools, does anyone doubt that fundamentalist Christians would become conscientious objectors to that service? If we conscripted people to perform death sentence executions, would all citizens perform such duty, or would some seek exemption? Conscientious objection to war is the only conscientious objection currently sanctioned by our government not because there is something special about war resisters but because military service is the only bodily conscription now sanctioned by the government.

He later extends this point into the familiar slippery-slope argument in which if conscientious objectors to military taxes are granted a legal exemption from paying such taxes, the government would be acting inconsistently if it did not offer similar exemptions to people who have conscientious objections to other aspects of government spending.

[The promoters’ statement that war taxes mean “conscientious objectors must either violate their beliefs or violate the law”] is, of course, not true. A number of individuals who object to paying taxes for war arrange their incomes and live so that they are not subject to taxation and therefore pay no taxes for war. No law is violated. What this argument really says is that conscientious objectors who are unwilling to undergo economic discomfort in support of their beliefs must either violate their beliefs or violate the law. These objectors would not be likely to impress those early (and not so early) Friends who over the years have suffered a great deal more than economic discomfort in their commitment to Truth.

The simple fact is that any person who objects to paying taxes for war can legally avoid paying them. What they may not be able to do is avoid paying taxes for war without making some sacrifices. It is not the exercise of conscience that is at stake, but convenience. Are Friends ready to endorse a major change in national policy and in the principles of shared representative government to support those whose principles may be less important to them than their comfort? Those who would ask for the crown without the cross?

Perhaps the greatest irony in this issue is that the bill diverts attention from the real issue of peacemaking. The World Peace Tax Fund bill is a special interest bill for a special interest minority. If we truly believe in the need for a national peace effort — and I believe that many individuals who are not conscientious objectors recognize the urgent need for serious new approaches to peacemaking — we should be supporting legislation to add a serious commitment to peacemaking to the budget, legislation supported by all taxpayers, not just conscientious objectors.

Many U.S. citizens not yet ready to reject all defense spending are desperately afraid of nuclear war and would strongly support an active national peacemaking program. But the World Peace Tax Fund allows no role to such individuals. It demands that its supporters renounce all military spending at whatever level as a condition for participating in a tax-supported peace effort. This exclusionary approach reduces the funds and personal commitments that could be available to a nationally supported peace program.

The World Peace Tax Fund claims to protect conscientious objectors to war from having their dollars conscripted for military purposes. But that right already exists. This proposal does not create the right; it makes its exercise painless. The World Peace Tax Fund seeks special privileges for one religious minority that will inevitably lead to special privileges for a multitude of other religious minorities, quite possibly doing serious damage to programs that the fund’s supporters consider most important. The World Peace Tax Fund seeks to provide taxpayer support for a national peacemaking effort, but ironically the approach taken may actually reduce the funds that could be made available if such an effort were undertaken as a normal part of our national budget.

As you might expect, this led to some debate in subsequent issues:

  • Brandt Chamberlain thought that Hodgkin’s slippery slope didn’t have anything very frightening at the end of it: “Laws permitting the diversion of tax dollars from programs felt to be morally objectionable could meet the demands of individual conscience while increasing our democratic influence on setting government priorities.” He also is skeptical that resisting taxes by lowering income is such a great idea, as “economic disengagement in this manner could limit us in our efforts to help define and meet the material needs of our society.”
  • Wallace T. Collett wrote in to say that he is on the whole supportive of the federal income tax system as “the most equitable way to raise the funds needed for necessary government services,” and regrets that an overwhelming conscientious imperative forces him to noncooperate with it. “But… we cannot separate the collection process from the use of the funds that are collected… military policies that lead toward the death of all life on earth.” He hoped that once “a million” Americans either refused to pay war taxes or chose to pay into the World Peace Tax Fund, “then the dominance of the military on our nation’s policies will be overcome and our country and the world will be set on a new course.”
  • Robert Hull, then chairperson of the National Campaign for a World Peace Tax Fund, also wrote in. He disagreed with Hodgkin’s scriptural interpretation of money as being a creature of the State, and therefore the State’s to do with as it will. Conscripting a person’s money is tantamount to conscripting the time they took to earn that money.

    When such large proportions of the exchange value of one’s labor (i.e., money) is confiscated through the federal treasury for military purposes, I believe there is a strong case for speaking of “military conscription.” And if “military conscription” is operating, then conscientious objection is appropriate. In our technological age, the young few have at times been conscripted for military duty; the many older are continually being conscripted through their labor.

    Hull also had no fear of Hodgkin’s slippery slope.

    …Hodgkin’s fear [is] that if we are allowed to divert our taxes away from military expenditures, the floodgates will open to every group with a conscientious dissent. So be it! Let each of them go to Congress and make their case, as we are doing. We trust our representatives to sort out the true grievance of conscience from the false greed of opportunism.

  • Alan Eccleston defended the World Peace Tax Fund bill this way (excerpts):

    …[A]t either a symbolic or substantial level, we can refuse voluntary compliance with a tax system that has God’s priorities turned upside down. The institutional wheels of government start grinding and, in time, the IRS will collect the money withheld plus interest and penalties. What has been accomplished? Is this just an act of self-righteousness? Has the world changed?

    Yes, it has changed! I know this experientially.

    Praying for peace is powerful in itself. When the prayer is made manifest in one’s daily life its power multiplies. There are many ways for the manifestation to be expressed, and each of us must listen to our inner guide for direction. Those of us who, through love, are led to say no to war taxes announce we trust God, not armaments, for our security.

    In addition to creating a new ethical choice for most of the adult population, the World Peace Tax Fund bill establishes a separate trust fund that will disburse over one billion dollars a year for programs of health, education, and welfare. I know of no other peace initiative that has this potential.

  • James B. Eblin wrote that the option of lowering his income below the tax line was not available to him as “I am morally and legally obliged to support my children.” He therefore sees the World Peace Tax Fund as his only possible relief.
  • Lissa Field also criticized Hodgkin’s stark distinction between conscription of bodies and taxation of earnings. “[W]e are responsible for both… as my taxes pay for the destruction of other humans and that of God within them, I am responsible for responding on the level of God’s rules, not Caesar’s.” She also, as someone who had faced a $5,000 fine for her resistance, found “particularly tedious” Hodgkin’s casting of tax resisters as unwilling to sacrifice.
  • Joe Marinello also thought that since income is the fruit of his labor, his person is very much wrapped up in his income, and so Hodgkin’s distinction does not hold. “My labor (directly represented by my earned income) is the fruit of my being in this world. I will not let my actions, my labors, be used to create weapons of mass destruction. Nor will I allow my labor to be used by others to kill our neighbors.” And he reminded Hodgkin of the sorts of sacrifices above-the-line resisters have to make so “that the government does not steal my labor. I am self-employed, have no savings accounts, no property in my name, and I give away most of my income. I have no desire to go to jail, but I will go to jail before I willingly pay any war taxes.”
  • Linda Coffin prefers the World Peace Tax Fund to living below a taxable income because the latter “would be shirking our responsibility to support the life-affirming programs of our government. I could not take that option because it would mean ceasing my support for public schools, federal programs for the poor, health assistance programs, U.S. contributions to the United Nations and international aid agencies, and so on.” In contrast, “The Peace Tax Fund bill… uniquely demonstrates the depth and sincerity of our concern for the moral use of our tax dollars.”
  • Ira Byock felt that conscientious objection wasn’t really what the World Peace Tax Fund was about. “The real value of the Peace Tax Fund — like so much of what we do in peace work — lies in its symbolism, in its potential for heightening general public awareness of the percentage of our tax money spent on the military. We bear witness to the morally objectionable so that others may pause to notice.” That said, “the issue of conscience remains real. To write one’s elected representatives, contribute to peace campaigns and organizations, take part in public peace activities, and then send in money for guns, subs, missiles, and bombs is inconsistent.” And this is true even for people not willing to live below the tax line.
  • Anne Friend agreed with Hodgkin in his opposition to the World Peace Tax Fund. Weirdly, though she was most persuaded by Hodgkin’s argument “that having a witness made easy dilutes its power and will probably deflect it from its ultimate goal,” she didn’t see this as a call for her to make a difficult witness instead, but rather to wait and meanwhile do nothing: “I am not yet ready to refuse the military portion of my income taxes. But when that becomes an option [?], I expect the action required of me will be noncooperation, even if special status is available.”

Historical Notes

Margaret Hope Bacon penned an article on “Effective Peacemaking” in the issue that discussed the history of war tax resistance in the Society of Friends:

[T]he Quaker testimony against paying war taxes began with a few individuals who felt an opening and a “stop in my mind.” Theirs was an even more difficult path than that of C.O.s, for the Society itself was not always behind them. Friends have always refused to pay purely military tithes, but when the taxes are “in the mixture,” that is, war taxes and civilian taxes mixed together, or when the tax is not publicly stated as being for war, they have urged members to pay. In , London Yearly Meeting disciplined a woman member who was advocating that Friends refuse to pay a new tax that she thought was clearly for war purposes. She was told that for the past 1600 years Christians have always paid their taxes. In this case the individual was trying to respond to the dictates of conscience (religion) while the group was concerned to prevent further persecution (politics). This uneasy balance continued for years, until today, at last, monthly and yearly meetings are beginning to give more support to tax objectors, and some believe we will eventually have legal provision for the conscientious objection for our tax dollars as well as ourselves — a political result of a religious impulse.