Tax Resistance in the American Catholic Press, 1977–78

Today, some excerpts from The Catholic News Archive concerning tax resistance in .

Dick and Evelyn Freeman penned this Catholic defense of war tax resistance for the Catholic Worker:

Don’t Pay War Taxes

By Dick and Evelyn Freeman

We met Stanley Vishnewski for the first time in . He was visiting our friends in Baltimore, Willa Bickham and Brendan Walsh, at their Catholic Worker home, Viva House. Stanley is a joyful man, and, after little persuasion, he shared with us his slide show and oral history of the Catholic Worker.

Stanley’s message, of course, was that we share a particularly Catholic social tradition of pacifism, personalism, and for some, voluntary poverty.

It has always been a struggle to affirm this tradition, especially when confronting the ikons of the day. Sometimes we find it as much a struggle to explain our affirmations to fellow Catholics! Faith so easily blends into national culture, and we become technicians for the American state. The state plays its part well, beginning with the insistence that we pay income tax. Affirming our tradition, however, we refuse to pay that tax because the government uses the money to develop and deploy murderous nuclear and conventional weapons and to pay off a national debt incurred mostly during past wars. Ours is an act of pacifism in general, and of nuclear pacifism in particular. It is firmly rooted in modern Catholic thought.

Today it is common knowledge that the United States spends annually more than 50% of its revenue for the military. U.S. leaders have announced as national policy, first implemented by Truman, the potential first use of nuclear weapons. If that weren’t enough, they threaten to conduct nuclear war — somehow limited.

National leaders, particularly in the US and USSR, have had thirty years to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and they have failed on a massive scale. Their failure can be measured in megatons.

Every tax dollar supports this madness. You cannot just send your tax to the Department of Labor and ask them to provide someone with a minimum income. Some people tried, during the Vietnam war, to send their money to government agencies that were not involved, other than by their silence, in that war. But the IRS ruled that checks paid to a government agency had to be treated as if paid to the United States.

As Catholics we cannot at one moment refer to people as brothers and sisters, and at another, pay our government to prepare to burn, blast or irradiate them. Nor can we wait until the Congress gives us legal permission, as in the World Peace Fund Act, to insure that the military does not get our tax dollars. We must simply refuse to pay the tax.

In the light of recent events we may justly urge fellow Catholics to refuse tax payment, and to seek the full support of the bishops as representatives of the institutional Church in America. In , the Vatican sent a plea for disarmament to the United Nations. It condemned the arms race, even when motivated by a concern for a legitimate defense, as a danger, in terms of the potential use of nuclear weapons; as an injustice, by asserting the primacy of force and by stealing resources from the poor for use in weapons construction; as a mistake and a wrong, by instilling the fear in workers that they will have no work if they do not produce weapons; as a folly, because neither conventional nor nuclear weapons ensure a stable peace.

Pacem in Terris and Pope Paul’s statements for Peace Day (January 1) and , are as explicit and as forceful. We would do well to reflect on them in our parish and diocesan communities. We should not simply submerge our faith in the nation’s nuclear pastime.

Yet some will object that we need, as a prerequisite for acting, specific pastoral instruction about tax refusal. Some will say that we must give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.

We now find ourselves as we were during the many, many years before the bishops’ statement on conscientious objection and selective conscientious objection in . There is sufficient teaching with which to form our “correct consciences”; individually, and in our communities, we need not wait.

The government’s acts in preparation for nuclear and conventional war are clearly opposed to the moral code which has God as its source. Because its acts are immoral, the government lacks authority to command us to pay its tax.

As Pope John taught,

Since the right to command is required by the moral order and has its source in God, it follows that, if civil authorities pass laws or command anything opposed to the moral order and consequently to the will of God, neither the laws made nor the authorization granted can be binding on the consciences of the citizens, since “God has more right to be obeyed than men.”

The National Catholic News Service covered John Egan’s tax resistance again, in a dispatch:

Priest Refuses to File Tax Return as Protest

For the third consecutive year, a priest here has written to the Internal Revenue Service and declined to file a federal tax return.

Father John P. Egan of St. Boniface parish, in his most recent letter to the IRS, said he does not intend to file a return in protest against government expenditures for armaments and the support of certain foreign governments.

While Father Egan is subject to prosecution, his letters have never been answered and no action has been taken against him. Since he retains none of his salary he would not owe any taxes.

In his letter he cited Brazil, South Korea, the Philippines and Haiti as “dictatorships supported by U.S. taxpayers’ money.” He also charged that “hard-earned money from folks in this country encouraged the recent bloody coup in Thailand where a democratic government was overthrown.”

“People say we are at peace,” he wrote, “but such peace is an illusion that keeps us going our merry way and preserves our consciences from any healthy challenges… Nuclear priorities are a war against the poor.”

He said tax resistance is a step in the direction of eliminating weapons. “It is a way to celebrate life by refusing to worship the death of others as security or solution. It is a way of saying that the laying down of arms so we can embrace each other as brothers and sisters is the only true solution, the only true security.”

Father Egan has been active in anti-war groups and has campaigned for prison reform.

The following brief letter-to-the-editor appeared in the Catholic Worker:

Our Lady of Presentation
2012 Westwood Northern Blvd
Cincinnati, Ohio 45225

Dear Fellow Workers,

I am a priest and a war tax resister. I am interested in knowing if there are other priests who have refused to pay income or telephone tax in opposition to our war economy. If you would kindly publish this letter, we may be able at least to know about one another and possibly to encourage and support one another in living this decision. Thank you.

God bless you
Fr. Al Lauer

A National Catholic News Service dispatch from about a recent talk by Daniel Berrigan ended with a quote from Berrigan in which he said: “If we had a quiet groundswell of tax refusal around the country, they couldn’t build this stuff” [e.g. nuclear weapons].

Another dispatch, from read:

“Peace” Churches Ask Tax Resistance to Military Spending

Three hundred delegates of three historic “peace” churches have urged their members to use civil disobedience, including tax resistance, to emphasize their opposition to militarism and their support for “worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons.”

The delegates met at a “New Call to Peace-Making” that followed 26 regional meetings over the past two years.

The meeting was sponsored by the Friends (Quakers), the Mennonites and the Church of the Brethren, who have a combined membership of about 400,000 persons.

The delegates urged their church members “to seriously consider refusal to pay the military portion of their federal taxes as a response to Christ’s call to radical discipleship.” They said military expenditures take up about half of all federal taxes.

The delegates also opposed restoration of the draft.

They called for a meeting with President Carter to “commend and support him in his concern for peace and human rights” and to tell him of their “concerns about military spending, nuclear weapons, arms sales and related matters.”

Eileen Egan, a member of Pax Christi, a Catholic peace group, said she attended the meeting as a representative of Catholic pacifists. She said Catholics should join the “peace” churches in their pacifism.