War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in
The third of Friends Journal’s special issues on war tax resistance came in , and the topic came up in several other issues besides.
An article by Mary Bye in the issue showed how the arguments for war tax resistance were starting to break the bounds of the tax arena and take hold elsewhere. Excerpts:
In a letter from the collection department of Philadelphia Electric Company demanded payment for a backlog of refused rate hikes. I had withheld the 13.7 percent imposed to cover the construction costs of the Salem and Limerick nuclear reactors. Why did I take this stand?
Looking back over the years for the source of my action, I could see it springing from a long-time insistence upon justice, a small but growing willingness to risk, a perennial sense of grief for suffering, and a blossoming love of the Earth. These are the qualities of the spirit which began to unfold into action during the early days of the Vietnam War. Somewhere along the line, I refused to pay the war tax portion of my federal income tax. Later the Vietnam War ground to a halt when legislation ended financial support for it. Was it just a coincidence that our war tax resistance preceded this legislation? Or did citizens modeling the denial of monies not only support the growing disaffection with the war, but also provide a clue to a way to end it? We had perhaps unwittingly slipped into an old Christian strategy of living as if the Kingdom were here now, and, behold, it manifested a brave, new world, or at least the beginning of one.
War tax resistance seemed an appropriate base upon which to build a new witness of caring for the whole Earth.…
…With crystalline clarity I selected my own utility, Philadelphia Electric, and refused the rate hike for Salem and Limerick. After 1½ years of refusal, accompanied by monthly explanations, I received a warning letter from the collection department, threatening an end of service. The initial fright yielded to a decision to continue resisting and move as swiftly as possible to establish my independence from nuclear power forever.
I faced a new, expensive, complicated simplicity: photovoltaic cells, which produce electrical current when exposed to light, and which could free me from bondage not only to nuclear generators but also fossil fuel-fired reactors. As war tax resistance led me to a lower income, so rate hike refusal was pointing the way to lower energy demands. My living standard may drop, but the quality of my life soars. Meanwhile I have discovered that Philadelphia Electric is experimenting with photovoltaics in anticipation of the coming solar age. If the price is right, I could purchase them there. After all, nuclear power is the enemy, not the electric company.
This is the vision, but it is a dream deferred or rather only partially realized. Philadelphia Electric Company and Solarex, which manufactures photovoltaic cells, want to establish a demonstration project at my home that would provide between one-fourth and one-third of the daily demand here for electricity. The stumbling block is the cost, which would possibly necessitate a 35-year pay-back period. So I am circling the photovoltaic issue in a holding pattern like a plane above an airport. I am searching for answers to hard questions: such as what is the equitable balance between the cost of photovoltaics and the wattage generated? What is a reasonable payback time? If the cost is rock bottom right now, how do we gather funds? How do we secure state and government support? Are churches and meetinghouses able to model this kind of caring for God’s creation? How do we dream this dream into reality? I would welcome your suggestions.
That issue also announced a “Conference for Quaker, Mennonite, and Brethren employers, airing ways to deal with war tax resistance by employees. Sponsored by Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns and New Call to Peacemaking.”
That conference was covered in the issue in an article by Paul Schrag. Excerpts:
The question of how church organizations can help their employees follow their consciences — and how to deal with the risks involved for both employees and employers — were the issues that 36 Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers struggled with at the meeting. The church leaders, organizational representatives and lawyers affirmed their support for individual military tax resisters and for efforts to seek a legislative solution by working toward passage of the U.S. Peace Tax Fund bill in Congress. They agreed to organize a peace church leadership group to go to Washington, D.C., to support the peace tax bill and to express concerns about tax withholding. They also agreed to help each other by filing friend-of-the-court briefs if tax resisters are prosecuted and by sharing the cost of tax resistance penalties, if necessary.
People from churches that refuse to withhold federal taxes for employees who oppose paying military taxes shared their experiences with people from churches considering adopting such a policy. The General Conference Mennonite Church and two Quaker groups are in the first category. The Mennonite Church is in the second. The meeting, held at Quaker Hill Conference Center, took place in an atmosphere of excitement generated by a gathering of people from different traditions who share a vision. One conference participant said it was frustrating that many members of historic peace churches are unwilling to witness against financial participation in preparing for war, although they are opposed to physical participation in war. Some said it was disappointing that so many people are unwilling to follow their consciences until the government, through the Peace Tax Fund, might allow them to do so legally. One quoted Gandhi: “We have stooped so low that we fancy it our duty to do whatever the law requires.”
When a church or organization decides to honor employees’ requests not to withhold their federal income tax, it assumes serious risks. Theoretically, a person in a responsible position who willfully fails to withhold an employee’s taxes can be punished with a prison sentence and a $250,000 fine. An organization can be fined $500,000. But such penalties have never been imposed on legitimate religious organizations, nor are they likely to be, said two lawyers at the meeting. The usual Internal Revenue Service response to war tax resistance is to take the amount of tax owed, plus a 5 percent penalty and interest, from the employee’s bank account. However, the IRS has not taken even this action against General Conference Mennonite Church employees who are not having their taxes withheld. They pay the nonmilitary portion of their taxes themselves and deposit the 53 percent that would have gone to the military in a designated account. The IRS has not touched that account after church delegates approved the policy in . All church personnel who could be subject to penalties have agreed to accept the risk.
Friends World Committee for Consultation, which has had a nonwithholding policy , has had tax money seized, plus interest and penalties, from its resisters’ bank accounts. Friends United Meeting adopted a non withholding policy . Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends is considering such a policy.
A representative of the Church of the Brethren said he would use input from the meeting to work toward developing a denominational policy on tax resistance.
Lobbying continues for the Peace Tax Fund bill… The bill would allow people opposed to war taxes to put the portion normally given to the military in a separate fund for peaceful purposes. The rest of that person’s tax money also would be designated for nonmilitary use… Whether or not military tax resistance is effective, participants agreed that people’s moral imperative to follow their consciences must be respected. “No conscientious objector ever stopped a conflict,” said William Strong, a Quaker representative [and treasurer of the Friends Journal Board of Directors]. “But they had to explain what they did, and the vision was kept alive, and those ripples, you don’t know where they stop.”
A postscript noted: “‘A Manual on Military Tax Withholding for Religious Employers,’ written by Robert Hull, Linda Coffin, Peter Goldberger, and J.E. McNeil, will be available .”
The issue was the third special issue on war taxes from the Friends Journal.
It was prompted in part by the fact that the Journal itself had received IRS levies on the salary of its editor, Vinton Deming, who had been refusing to pay income tax . The Treasurer of the Journal, William D. Strong, explained what was going on in the lead editorial:
The Friends Journal Board of Managers has twice been unable to honor the levy against the wages of our editor, Vint Deming, for unpaid federal taxes. In our most recent reply to the Internal Revenue Service we stated that:
It is not possible for us as a board to separate our faith and our practice: we must live out our faith.
Our earlier letter… refers to our 300-year-old Peace Testimony. To more fully describe that part of our beliefs we enclose copies of two sections of Faith and Practice, the book of spiritual discipline of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. [“The Peace Testimony” and “The Individual and the State,” pp. 34–38, were shared.]
Our position of noncompliance to the requests of the Internal Revenue Service is not an easy one. We do not question the laws of the land lightly, but do so under the weight of a genuine religious and moral concern. We know as well that other religious groups — Mennonites, Brethren, and others-are facing this same difficult dilemma. For this reason, many of us support the proposed Peace Tax Fund bill in Congress.
The board agreed at our meeting in to make known this continuing witness, both individual and corporate, to you, our readers.
The dilemma is clearly not the Journal’s alone. Many Quaker institutions in the United States, Canada, and England have faced this challenge. Beyond the historic peace churches are Catholics, Methodists, and others who are considering the whole question of taxes and militarism. In February representatives of some 70 institutions came together at the Quaker Hill Conference Center in Richmond, Indiana, for a New Call to Peacemaking consultation on “Employers and War Taxes.” This followed a Quaker conference at Pendle Hill considering the same concern.
The Journal board has worked at and reached unity in this matter. We will continue to seek the light in the months and years ahead. For now, however, we would welcome the support and reactions of our subscribers and readers. If you’d like to share in this witness with your moral support, let us know. If you’d like to add practical support, we would welcome it, as we are establishing a Conscience Fund.
We don’t plan extensive legal undertakings at this time, but we know that there can readily be some fees and costs ahead, as well as possible penalties resulting from our refusal to honor the levies from the IRS.
We look forward to the response of our readers. We feel that we cannot host writings in the issues of the Journal on peace and justice, on our testimonies and faith and practice, without, as an employer, living them out to the best of our God-given abilities.
Another article in the special issue was an extract from J. William Frost’s Tax Court testimony in the Deming case, in which he explained the Quaker war tax resistance practice:
The peace testimony has been a basic part of Quaker religious belief . The testimony has not been static; it has evolved over time as Friends thought out the implications of what it meant to be a bringer of peace.
Some of the most creative actions of members of the Society of Friends have come from the peace testimony. For example, Friends’ primary contribution to world history is that they began and carried through the antislavery testimony. Friends became antislavery advocates in , when they realized that the only way one could obtain a black slave was to take him or her captive in war.
Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn for religious liberty. Penn believed, and so did the early settlers, that to create a Quaker colony meant there would be no militia, no war taxes and no oaths. These were conceived to be part of religious freedom, and in the early years of Pennsylvania, there was no militia, and there were no war taxes and no oaths. At first, the Pennsylvania Assembly refused to levy any taxes for the direct carrying on of war. Instead, after when the British government requested money because it was already beginning its long series of wars with France, the Crown and the Pennsylvania Assembly worked out a series of arrangements. Those arrangements provided that the Assembly (then composed primarily of Quakers) would provide money for the king’s use or the queen’s use, but the laws also stipulated that that money would not be directly used for military purposes; i.e., there would be almost a noncombat status for Quaker money. It could be used to provide foodstuffs to be used to feed the Indians, or it could purchase grain or relieve sufferings. It would not be used to provide guns and gunpowder.
This policy of no direct war taxes, no militia, and no oaths, was followed in Pennsylvania . In , a group of members of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting began the debate on whether Quakers should pay taxes in time of war. At this time, some of the most devout Quakers refused to pay a war tax levied by the Pennsylvania Assembly. And finally the yearly meeting agreed that those whose consciences would not allow them to pay the taxes, should not. So the heritage of Pennsylvania was that government accommodated the religion.
The Federal Constitution allows for an affirmation, because certain religious rights are antecedent to the establishment of the government, and the government can and will accommodate itself to religious scruples of those people who are conscientious good citizens.
there was less opportunity for tax resistance because there was no direct federal taxation. The federal government was financed by tariffs, and the tariffs were used to carry out the full operations of government. (The major exception came during the Civil War, and here the main issues were military service and Quakers’ refusal to pay a substitution tax.)
The main Quaker response to World War Ⅰ was the creation of the American Friends Service Committee. This organization was designed to allow those young men who did not wish to fight (conscientious objectors) to have an opportunity for constructive service (i.e., to provide relief and reconstruction in the war zone). Friends conducted relief activities in France, and then later in Germany, Serbia, Poland, and in Russia. The War Department accommodated itself to Friends. There was no specific provision in the draft law in World War Ⅰ for conscientious objectors. The War Department allowed those Friends who wished to serve in the American Friends Service Committee to be furloughed so that they could go abroad to participate in relief activities.
A second way in which the authorities accommodated Friends at that time was in relief money raised by the Red Cross for Bonds. Much of the Red Cross effort was for military hospitals, and Friends did not wish to support that effort. Therefore in Philadelphia an agreement was worked out whereby Friends contributed money or bonds which would be earmarked for the American Friends Service Committee or for relief activity rather than for direct war activity.
There were instances in World War Ⅱ of individual Friends refusing to pay war taxes, and the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting officially protested against certain war taxes, but the main movement against war taxes has occurred . During the Cold War and particularly during Vietnam, war tax resistance has become a major theme in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
The Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, , has regularly put a discussion of war taxes on its agenda. In many ways the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting position on war taxes is like its position was on antislavery before the Civil War: before , virtually all Friends opposed slavery. , virtually all Friends oppose military taxation. The difficulty in and in is that Friends are searching for a way to make their religious witness effective. What Friends want to do is somehow change the focus of a policy which they see as destructive of what is basic to their value system.
In summary, the position of Friends is that religious freedoms preceded and are incorporated into the federal government. Pennsylvania was founded for religious freedom, and religious freedom meant no taxes for war, no militia service, and the right of affirmation. Friends think that the federal government incorporated part of that understanding in the affirmation clause in the constitution, in the first amendment, and in the religion clauses in the Pennsylvania Constitution. Friends think that the government has in good faith tried to accommodate us in our position on military service, and what Friends are wanting from the government now is a like accommodation on a subject which is the same to us as conscientious objection: the paying of taxes which will be used to create weapons to threaten and to kill.
Deming represented himself next, in an article describing his “journey toward war tax resistance.” Excerpts:
During a difficult moment [in the discussion over the Philadelpha Yearly Meeting’s response to the Vietnam War] a young Friend stood and spoke with deep emotion; and his words went straight to my heart. It didn’t matter, he said, what older Friends might say in support of him and his generation (though support was needed and appreciated, for sure); what really mattered to him was that Friends look personally at their own lives to see how they were connected to warmaking. If they were too old to be drafted (and most of us were) perhaps they could find other ways to resist the war.
About 20 years have gone by and I don’t even remember the name of the young Friend who spoke in meeting that day, but his words had a profound impact on me. As a result of his ministry I decided to begin to seek ways to resist the payment of taxes for warmaking (what another Friend, Colin Bell, would term the “drafting of our tax dollars” for the military).
I should say that there was another motivating force at work on me as well. My work for Friends in the city of Chester was bringing me into daily contact with poor and black people. I was learning firsthand about a community — a microcosm of other urban areas across the country — that suffered the debilitating effects of chronic poverty, high unemployment, deteriorating housing, inadequate health care, and inferior public schools. I was witnessing the insufficient funding of a so-called War on Poverty in Chester while millions of dollars and human lives were being expended in a war against other poor people in Southeast Asia. I knew I had to do something to end my personal complicity in helping to pay for the war and to redirect these dollars to wage a more life-affirming battle against poverty and injustice here at home.
I soon discovered that it is hard to become a tax resister; there are so many basic assumptions about money and taxes that we have learned. We are expected to do certain things in our society: when we work, we must pay taxes — this pretty much goes without question. How else will programs get funded and bills get paid? And those who don’t pay, well… there’s an institution called the IRS that takes care of such people and will make them pay!
There are so many good reasons for not resisting taxes. Some of the ones I wrestled with are these:
- I can’t get away with it. IRS will eventually get the money from me anyway and I’ll just end up paying more in the end.
- It won’t do any good. The government is too powerful and they’ll not change their policies because of my symbolic act.
- There are better ways to work for peace (i.e. writing letters to Congress, going to demonstrations, etc.)
- There will never be a substantial number who will be tax resisters — it’s simply not realistic.
Well, there’s truth in all of these statements, but I had to start anyway. Not to do so had simply become an even bigger problem for me. So I began looking at the question of taxes for war and decided to start where I could, with the telephone tax. I learned that the federal tax on my personal phone had been increased specifically to help pay for the war. In talking with others who were refusing to pay this portion of their phone bills I learned that the risk was fairly small. No one I knew about had gone to jail or suffered any severe penalties (beyond having some money taken from a bank account or such). So my wife and I began to withhold these few dollars each month and include a note to the telephone company explaining our reasons. This became an educational experience for me. I started to get used to receiving the impersonal letters from the phone company and later from IRS , and I even came to enjoy the process of writing my own letters in response! felt good about not paying.
In I began to feel more confident. The IRS had not locked me up, or even taken any money from me, as I recall, so I gathered my courage and decided to take the next step — to resist paying a portion of my income taxes. At first I included a letter with my tax form in April and tried to claim a “war tax deduction” and request a return of some of the money withheld from my salary but with no success. The IRS computers were not impressed with my effort, and they routinely informed me that the tax code did not provide for such a claim. So I came to a decision: it would be better to have IRS asking me for the money each year rather than my asking IRS. So beginning in I began to seek ways to reduce the amount withheld from my regular paychecks. Though some tax resisters at accomplished this by claiming all the world’s children as their dependents (or all the Vietnamese children), I decided to reduce the amount withheld by claiming extra allowances (which were authorized for anticipated medical expenses, etc.) and thus reduce the amount withheld.
Beginning in , when I started to work part-time at Friends Journal, and continuing until , I claimed enough allowances on my W-4 so that no money was withheld from my pay. For several years as a single parent raising a young child, I lived very modestly, working just part-time and sharing living expenses in a communal house. During those years I actually got money back from the government when I had paid nothing. Since , however, after I remarried (and later had two more children) I started to owe money to IRS each year. So each year at tax time I would write a personal letter to the president to be sent with a copy of my tax form (not completely filled out, usually just with my name and address) explaining why I could not in good conscience pay any taxes until our nation’s priorities changed from warmaking to peacemaking. I would usually send copies of my letters as well to IRS, my representative in Congress, and friends. Occasionally I would receive thoughtful responses, once from Congressman William Gray from my district, who is one of the sponsors of Peace Tax Fund legislation in Washington.
After a few years of this, IRS began to make some ominous threats and noises, followed by the first serious efforts to collect back taxes from me. I should say that I redirected some of the unpaid taxes to peace organizations and poor people’s groups, some into an alternative tax fund, some into a credit union account to earn interest — and some was spent. On two occasions — once in , again in — I went to tax court. Each court appearance provided an opportunity to explain my witness more clearly, and to meet others in the community who were tax resisters or who wanted to be supportive.
My first day in court was in Raleigh, North Carolina, and was particularly meaningful. About 30 of my friends went with me to lend support. A local peace group baked apple pies and served small slices to people entering the courthouse next to a large “pie chart” that graphically showed the disproportionately small share of our federal taxes going to human services and the large piece to the military. A local TV station interviewed me and carried a story on the evening news. A wire service picked up on the story as well, and for several days I received phone calls from people throughout the South.
What occurred inside the courthouse was just as important. The judge was very interested in my pacifist views: At one point he ended the hearing and engaged in an extended discussion right in the courtroom of many of the peace issues I had raised. It became a sort of teach-in on the subject of militarism and peaceful resistance. Later both he and the young government attorney thanked me for what I shared and complimented me for effectively handling my own legal defense. (I had elected not to be represented by counsel.) Though the court eventually ruled against my arguments in the case — which did not surprise me — I feel that the whole experience of going to court was a positive one, as well as an educational experience for others. And though I was ordered to pay the $500 or so owed in back taxes, I never did — and no further efforts were made to collect.
IRS has been more aggressive, however, in recent years. Some funds have been seized from a bank account, an IRA was taken, and such efforts are continuing even as I write this article. Most recently IRS has levied Friends Journal for the tax years for taxes, interest, and penalties totaling about $23,000. I am grateful that the Journal’s board has declined to accept the levies on my salary… and that the board as a Quaker employer both corporately and as individual members supports my witness.
I don’t know what the future will bring, and frankly I try not to think about it too much. In the past two years I have changed my approach some. My wife and I have decided to file a joint return. Beginning this past summer the Journal started to withhold a little money from my paychecks following my decision to complete the new W-4. It seems appropriate just now that I devote my time to working on the earlier tax years and to finding ways to support others who are more actively resisting. I try to stay open as well to seeking other approaches to resistance from year to year.
What are some things that I have learned from all this? Perhaps I might share these thoughts:
- Tax resistance is a very individual thing. Each of us must find our own way and decide what works best for us.
- Resist openly and joyfully, and seek opportunities to be in the company of others along the way. When you go for an IRS audit, for instance, take some friends with you; when you go to court, make the courtroom a meeting for worship.
- Don’t see IRS agents or government officials as the enemy. Look for opportunities for friendliness, address individuals by name, be open and honest about what you intend to do. The IRS will soon recognize that a conscientious tax refuser is different from a tax evader.
- What might work one year may not the next. Be flexible and remain open to trying different approaches.
- Talking about money is hard, and it is discouraged in our society. I remember how embarrassed the grownups in my family were when one of my children once asked at the dinner table, “How much money do you have, grandpa?” Tax resistance helps us to remove some of these barriers, and this is good.
- Sometimes our children can educate us, I should say, and provide simple insights to seemingly complex problems. Just as I was challenged by a young Friend to consider tax resistance 20 years ago, an IRS agent was once set on his heels by my daughter. During a lull in a long conversation about financial figures, Evelyn (only seven at the time) asked the agent, “Why do you make my daddy pay money for killing people?” The poor man shuffled his papers, turned beet-red, cleared his throat, and ended the meeting.
There were several responses to the special issue on war tax resistance that were printed as letters-to-the-editor in the issue:
- Jim Quigley wrote in to express his “admiration for the act of courage and faith represented by the war tax resisters.”
- Karl E. Buff wanted to “encourage Vinton Deming to continue to resist” in the hopes that “[w]ithout easy access to huge sums of money our government would surely have to curtail its war-making propensities.” He also put in a plug for the Tax Resisters Penalty Fund.
- Eddie Boudreau suggested that someone set up a “Conscience Fund” that people could contribute to and that would help defray the legal expenses of folks like Vinton Deming.
- Susan B. Chambers wrote in about her technique, which was to consult with a tax expert in order to get into the “zero tax bracket” and to contribute 30% of her income to charity. “I am pleased not to inconvenience my friends in taking this stand,” she wrote, in what I read as something of a rebuke to those resisters, like Deming, whose resistance becomes an agenda item for their employers (though she didn’t make this explicit).
- Robin Greenler wrote to support the Journal’s resistance to helping the IRS collect from Deming. “The decisions are neither easier nor less important on corporate levels than they are on a personal level.”
- Ben Richmond wrote that, for him, the question of whether a tax resister would just end up paying more in the end (with penalties and interest added to the unpaid tax) was the one he found the most difficult. “I have never found it satisfying to think that the point of the witness was simply to satisfy my personal need for moral purity.” But he looked into the early Quaker resistance to mandatory tithes for the establishment church and found that Quakers were willing to suffer having property seized worth several times the resisted tithes rather than pay voluntarily. He notes also that the Quakers eventually won that battle, which is to say there are no longer government-enforced tithes that everyone must pay to an established church. So, Richmond wrote, “I do not resist military taxes in the expectation or hope that I will succeed in keeping particular dollars from the hands of the military. But I do expect and hope that, insofar as my resistance is in obedience to the leadings of God, it will play its small part in breaking down the legitimacy of the warmaking machinery, as the early Friends broke down the legitimacy of taxation on behalf of the state church. I believe that in the end, Christ’s way is not only right but effective, and will prevail. Our sufferings are small in the overall scheme of things, so I don’t wish to be melodramatic. But, it seems to me that we cannot afford to follow Jesus for the short haul because in the short run, all that appears is the cross (which, after all is simply shorthand for suffering at the hands of a pagan empire). Yet, it is the cross which led to the resurrection.”
In , the Friends World Committee for Consultation held their annual meeting. They decided to retire their “Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns” and establish in its place a “Committee on Peace Concerns.”
On Brian Willson had been run over by a train while blockading the Concord, California Naval Weapons Station in protest against American wars in Central America. A few days later, while recovering from his injuries, which included a fractured skull and the amputation of both of his lower legs, he issued a statement reasserting his continued commitment to nonviolent activism, which was reprinted in part in the issue, and which included this section:
If we want peace, we can have it, but we’re going to have to pay for it… Our government can only continue its wars with the cooperation of our people, and that cooperation is with our taxes and with our bodies. Our actions and expressions are what are needed, not our whispers and quiet dinner conversation.
In the issue, Jonathan Lutz gave an overview of the situation of Quakers in Scandinavia that included this parenthetical aside: “(To my knowledge, only one Scandinavian Friend is a war-tax resister, but then, the very different political climate must be taken into account.)”
That issue also included this historical note, which it sourced to “the newsletter of Friends World Committee for Consultation, Section of the Americas”:
According to a Canadian publication, For Conscience Sake, Russia was the first nation to establish legislation exempting pacifists from paying war taxes. “In , thirty British citizens were invited by Czar Alexander Ⅰ to establish a cotton mill in Tamerfors, which is now in Finland. James Finlayson, the manager, submitted a petition to the Czar signed by the employees from Britain, some of whom were members of the Society of Friends. The petition asked for freedom of conscience and religion to practice their own religion, and for exemption from military service, war, church taxes, and the taking of oaths.” The Czar agreed to free Quaker manufacturers from taxes and support of the military.
This is the closest I’ve been able to get to a citation for this claim, and as you see, it’s third-hand and doesn’t refer to an original source. I have seen references to Finlayson’s getting a charter from the Czar to set up his mill that included some tax incentives, but I haven’t gotten any closer to finding a clear and authoritative indication that the Czar explicitly honored the conscientious objection to military taxation of Quakers at this mill.
A note in the issue read:
John Stoner, executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee, U.S. Peace Section, writes: “That little Scripture passage on rendering to God and Caesar has been misused for too long, giving people an excuse for going the wrong way on important questions of ultimate loyalty.” So John has created a lovely poster with the following words on it: “We are war tax resisters because we have discovered some doubt as to what belongs to Caesar and what belongs to God, and have decided to give the benefit of the doubt to God.” The posters are available for ten cents per copy (a real bargain, Friends, we can learn something from our Mennonite friends about good prices).
An excerpt from Pearl C. Ewald’s letter to the IRS was included in the issue. Excerpt: “my conscience will no longer allow me to cooperate with any plans by our government to prepare weapons for mass annihilation. I know that such weapons of war are under the condemnation of God. Therefore, I am not sending in an income tax report. I am prepared to accept the penalty for this action, and I will try to maintain a spirit of love and consideration toward you.”
The issue brought an article by Eleanor Brooks Webb in which she described her family’s telephone tax resistance, and damned it with faint praise. Excerpts:
, my husband and I have refused to pay the federal tax on our phone bill. This is an unheroic and inconsistent witness to our conviction that participation in war is wrong and that paying for war preparations and for others’ participation is likewise wrong. The singular virtue of this small witness is that it is something we can do.
…The payment of federal taxes was the place where other thinking people could not evade their own complicity. We had long been convinced by such reasoning as Milton Mayer’s: “If you want peace, why pay for war?”
But nonpayment of taxes was difficult. My husband was the breadwinner, and his salary was subject to withholding; the Internal Revenue Service usually owed us money at the end of the income-tax year. Nonpayment of tax was also illegal, and we’re very law-abiding people; we try to stay within the speed limit, and we calculate our income taxes scrupulously.
When I first heard of phone tax resistance, I thought it was a foolish idea. The pennies of the phone tax were so trivial against the amount of the income tax! But discussion in Congress about the re-imposition of the phone tax made it explicit that the reason for this “nuisance” tax was the cost of war — the war in Vietnam — and the tax was all tidily calculated for us on each phone bill. The penalties for so trivial a flouting of the Internal Revenue Service would not likely be unendurable. This was something we could do!
The Webbs wrote a letter to the phone company with each bill (sending a copy to the IRS) explaining their resistance. They tried to redirect the resisted taxes to the UN (but the UN turned down the donations), and then to the Friends Committee on National Legislation. The phone company responded appropriately, by “notifying the Internal Revenue Service of what we are doing and giving us credit for the unpaid tax.”
In the early years of this saga, IRS made some effort to collect the unpaid tax. We received notices of unpaid tax, and replied that we didn’t intend to pay it. We received notices of intent to collect, and several times liens were issued against my husband’s salary (for sums along the order of $4.73). We would get notices from the payroll supervisor that such a lien had been issued and they had no alternative but to pay it; and we would write back saying we were sorry they had been bothered with the matter, but we had no intention of paying the tax voluntarily, and we gave the reasons — it was another opportunity to say what our convictions were. A number of times we received notices of tax due that we couldn’t reconcile with our carefully kept records, and we would write IRS to that effect and ask for an explanation of the assessment. This often stopped them cold. At least once when we were due an income tax refund, a few dollars were deducted from it for “other unpaid taxes,” or something like that, which we assumed was derived from the unpaid phone tax. In the last few years we have heard nothing from IRS except an occasional, apparently random “notice of tax due,” which we wearily ignore.
She complained of the annoyance of all of the letter writing involved — “we have probably eight inches of file folders filled with telephone bills and carbon copies of letters.”
My husband and I aren’t consistent in our witness. We haven’t made the effort to get our MCI [long distance] service arranged so that we have control of paying the tax (instead of American Express, through which we are billed). I can’t handle any more letters!
But if this is all we have energy and grace to do, then I’m glad we’ve followed the leading this far.
The issue brought news of a new war tax resistance organization — “the Colorado War Tax Information Project” — associated with the Rocky Mountain Peace Center. This project ran an alternative fund that redirected $3,500 in war taxes to social programs . An obituary notice for Louise Benckenstein Griffiths in the same issue noted that she “refused to pay federal income tax toward American military efforts.”