War Tax Resister Francis Costello Faces Criminal Charges

On , the Gettysburg Times carried an Associated Press article by Mike Duffy about war tax resister Francis J. Costello:

Conscientious Taxpayer Faces Criminal Charges In IRS Battle Over War

“If I have any fear at all in my lifetime, it’s knowing exactly where my conscience is going to take me.”

Francis J. Costello’s conscience now has him battling with the federal government. At 33, a high school teacher, a husband and expectant father, Costello faces the loss of part of his salary and the eventual possibility of imprisonment.

One of the thousands of “conscientious taxpayers” who refuse to pay part or all of their taxes because of their opposition to war, Costello sees himself as struggling to maintain his personal integrity against the Internal Revenue Service, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Justice and, the ultimate foe, the Department of Defense.

The President and Congress may continue to debate over whether to provide further military aid to Indochina, whether to fund new weapons systems or whether to spend enough next year to maintain the position of the United States as the world’s leading military power. Costello and other individuals like him simply refuse to pay for it.

Court Decision

On , a federal judge handed down a decision against Costello in a civil action brought by the IRS for nonpayment of $659 in taxes for .

“Neither the First Amendment nor the other legal principles relied upon by the petitioner nor the evident sincerity of his beliefs furnishes any basis for granting him relief from his obligation to comply with the income tax law,” the judge wrote.

Conscience or not, Costello must pay the taxes, and the IRS will have the right to confiscate his wages to get the money, the court held. Costello says he will appeal.

Now the government is considering whether to file criminal charges against him for his tax returns of . Costello claimed as many as 10 exemptions so that less money would be withheld from his paycheck for taxes in proportion to the share of the Defense Department in the federal budget.

Spent on Community

Costello says he took the extra money and poured it into community projects of his own choosing. But the law says falsely inflating exemptions is fraud, and he could wind up in prison.

There are others like Costello.

An IRS spokesman said the for the year , at the height of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war, there were 1,740 tax returns readily identifiable as protest returns for war resistance or other reasons; for fiscal , the number dropped to 667, although he said many such returns could go undetected.

The full scope of the protest might be more accurately reflected in the number of persons withholding payment of the federal excise tax on their telephone bills, a tax imposed specifically to pay for war costs. There were 56,445 instances in compared to 50,371 in fiscal , the IRS spokesman said.

“Normally we take collection action,” he said. “A lot of them make the token protest, but then they get the notice and pay it.”

If they don’t pay, the IRS can use such devices as levies on wages and “every once in a while some of them become criminal cases.”

Costello says he is very much afraid that his case will reach the stage of criminal prosecution. But as long as money is being poured into military expenditures, he says he feels obliged by conscience to resist.

“When I started this, the war was going on and we were a direct part of it. The only difference today is that our participation in it is not as evident,” he says.

Even if all wars were to cease, Costello says he would feel obliged to resist contributing to “defense” costs because “under the posture of nonviolence, there is really no such thing as self-defense when it involves the taking of another life.”

Costello says he first developed pacifist convictions while studying for the Roman Catholic priesthood in Brooklyn in the early 1960s. He left the seminary one year from ordination and immediately applied for and won “conscientious objector” status with the draft board.

He earned a masters degree in social work and was a community organizer for Catholic Charities in Brooklyn. He says that when he began his tax resistance in , things got uncomfortable for him at the Catholic agency, which depends heavily on government funding. Costello also said he was having differences with the agency over tactics, so he quit rather than force them to fire them.

By this time he had gotten married. He turned to teaching. Now he is going to nursing school three nights a week so he can gain another skill to broaden his options of serving the community.

If he persists in his tax resistance, he could lose his income — $13,000 when he was a social worker and $9,400 now as a teacher — and he could wind up in prison before he completes nursing school. And his first child is due in a month.

The Vote

From the issue of The Vote:

Tax Resistance at Ipswich.

On Tuesday, , Dr. [Elizabeth] Knight and Mrs. [Hortense] Lane had a waggon sold for non-payment of taxes, Mrs. [Isabel] Tippett came to speak. The auctioneer was very sympathetic, and allowed Miss [Anna] Munro to make a short speech before the waggon was sold. He then spoke a few friendly words for the Woman’s Movement. After the sale a meeting was held, and Mrs. Tippett and Miss Munro were listened to with evident interest by a large number of men. The Vote and other Suffrage literature was sold.

In the evening a meeting was held on Cornhill. A large audience gathered, and listened for an hour. At the evening, as well as the morning meeting the logic of tax resistance was appreciated. Ipswich may congratulate itself on a good demonstration. We are very grateful to Dr. Knight and Mrs. Lane for giving us this opportunity of declaring our faith in “No Vote No Tax.”

Elizabeth Knight also penned a fundraising request for the same issue, to defray the costs of her defense and imprisonment.

In addition, a report on the Women’s Freedom League annual conference noted that:

A resolution on the militant policy declared that “We continue our policy of resistance to taxes and to the Insurance Act until a measure for Woman Suffrage is on the Statute Book; that Suffragists refuse subscriptions to churches and organised charitable institutions till the vote is granted, with a view to women making their power felt and to show the difference their withdrawal from religious and social work would make…”

Also from the same issue:

Tax Resistance.

Dr. Knight has not yet been consigned to Holloway to serve the sentence inflicted on her for her courageous resistance of Mr. [Lloyd] George’s extortions. In the meantime, the Waggon was once more seized for taxes at Woodbridge, and Mrs. Tippett and Miss Munro took charge of the protest, which was made .

Also from the same issue:

Women’s Tax Resistance League.

Miss Kate Raleigh gave a most interesting lecture on the “Daily Life of a Taxpaper [sic] in Ancient Athens” at Dr. Alice Corthorn’s drawing-room meeting held under the auspices of the Women’s Tax Resistance League, on . Miss Raleigh held her audience spellbound as she showed the man’s day to be full of interests and life, while the woman had nothing beyond her weaving and spinning, even marketing being an excitement denied to her. The chair was taken by Mrs. [Adeline] Cecil Chapman, who concluded her short speech with this advice to her audience: “It’s dogged that does it — you must keep on and worry, worry, worry.” A keen discussion followed, and a hearty vote of thanks was given to Dr. Alice Corthorn and Miss Raleigh.

Woman Scientist’s Protest.

On scientific instruments and book-cases belonging to Miss Ethel Sargent, Botanist of Girton College and President of the Botanical section of the British Association at the Birmingham Conference — a unique distinction — were sold at Girton as a protest against being taxed for national expenditure while she was denied a vote. The sale attracted wide attention, and Miss Sargent’s dignified speech, maintaining that resistance to taxation without representation was “the only resource for voteless women,” made a deep impression. Her speech was reported at length in the Press.

Forthcoming Sales.

, Mrs. Bacon and Mrs. Colquhoun will have goods sold for tax-resistance at , at Messrs. Westgate and Hammond, 81, South-street, Romford. Procession from auction room to open-air protest meeting. Speakers, Mrs. [Margaret] Kineton Parkes and Miss Nina Boyle. , Drs. [Francis] Ede and [Amy] Sheppard will have goods sold for tax-resistance at at Messrs. Hawkings, 26, Lisson-grove. Procession from Marble Arch Tube at sharp. Speakers, Mrs. [Anne] Cobden Sanderson, Mrs. Kineton Parkes, and others.