Amish Have Reasons For Tax Balk
New Wilmington, Pa. (UPI) — They came here more than 200 years ago looking for a sanctuary of religious freedom, and now they are talking of leaving. The old order Amish have collided with the Social Security Act.
The Amish will not pay the tax because they believe it violates God’s will. And the Internal Revenue Service will not exempt them because the law is the law.
Independent, God-fearing farmers whose mode of living hasn’t changed for more than 200 years and who do not believe in mixing in politics, the Amish now hope an act of Congress will relieve their predicament.
Bishop Andy M. Byler, the white-bearded patriarch of about 1,000 Amish in Lawrence and Mercer counties in Western Pennsylvania, explains what might happen if legislation before Congress exempting his sect from Social Security participation is not passed:
“We would think of going to a place where we could practice our religion. We would have to do something. We would let them take out more liens (on Amish property), but we will never pay willingly. It would be pretty hard on us.”
The Amish have no objection to paying taxes. But Social Security, they insist, is a form of insurance, not a tax, and insurance denotes a lack of faith in God.
Last spring, the Internal Revenue Service, contending it had no authority to exempt the Amish from Social Security taxes, filed 75 liens against Amish farmers in this area.
A nationwide furor was caused when IRS agents confiscated three of Valentine Byler’s handsome Belgian horses during the spring plowing of for back payment of Social Security taxes. Sold at auction, the horses brought $460. Valentine refused to accept the IRS’ refund of $37.89. Sympathizers through the country sent money and Byler ended up with more than enough to buy new horses.
Valentine, a slow-talking man of the soil, considers the government action persecution of a religious minority.
“I don’t see how else I can take it,” he said.
The predicament of “the plain people” led Rep. Richard S. Schwelker, R-Pa., to introduce legislation exempting them from Social Security. It is awaiting a hearing. A similar proposal was rejected by the Senate in .
Social Security is only one aspect of the outside world which makes life difficult for the Amish, who, above all else, want to be left alone.
Amish, who are conservative Protestants, migrated from Switzerland and Germany to the Lancaster Pa. area in the early 18th Century in search of freedom. There are about 18,000 Amish around the country now.
Many of them are found in Pennsylvania and Maryland and in several Midwestern states.
The austere Amish men, whose beards serve as a sort of wedding ring, are conspicuous in black, broad-rimmed hats and black, buttonless outer clothes; the women, cautious and obedient, in bonnet-covered prayer caps, ankle-length dresses of robin egg blue or green and the shy but friendly children, small scale replicas of the adults.
Zealous protectors of their heritage the Amish shield themselves and their children from outside influences and are suspicious of strangers. Stern punishment awaits both children and adults who break the laws of the sect.
Workers from sunup to sundown six days a week, the Amish are noted for their honesty and integrity. Sunday is “God’s day,” a day of rest, and Sunday meetings and barn raisings serve as social events.
Any bills incurred by the plain people will be paid by the church if a member cannot meet his obligation.
The men scorn the use of farm machinery or cars. “We do just as well with horses,” said Andy L. Byler, and the fertile and productive farms scattered over the hills and valleys testify to his words.
Despite their thrifty, self-reliant way of life, the Amish apparently are losing ground socially and economically.
Intermarriage has caused retardation among some Amish children, although the Amish here circumvent this problem by arranging marriages with Amish groups from Ohio.
The children are taken from school at the age of 14, “even if it’s a week before graduation,” says Mrs. Bessie McFarland, a lay teacher with about 42 Amish pupils in a one-room school house here.
Recalling more prosperous days, Rudy M. Byler said, “we used to have it but it went out the door. What we buy is 20 times higher and what we sell isn’t as high as it was.”
The definitive source of information on the Valentine Byler case is Brad Igou’s “Pay Unto Caesar” — The Amish & Social Security (which I was able to include in We Won’t Pay: A Tax Resistance Reader).
A few more data points:
, when farmers were included in the Social Security system, the Amish and the government have battled over the Amish farmers’ refusal to pay Social Security premiums. Internal Revenue agents moved to collect from Amishmen’s bank accounts. The farmers withdrew their savings. The government tried to attach checks due the Amishmen for milk sales to cooperatives. But co-op officials, many of them Amish, refused to sign the checks. Finally, in an action which precipitated the coming court fight, government agents seized and sold the horses of Amishman Valentine Byler, just at spring plowing time.
This is on par with the old vaudeville skit of a Communist orator declaiming that “Come the revolution, the workers will eat strawberries and cream.” When one bystander objected that he didn’t like strawberries and cream, the orator persists: “Come the revolution, you will eat strawberries and cream and you’ll like strawberries and cream.”