Tax Resistance in the American Catholic Press, 1981

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

The Catholic Worker reprinted an article on war tax resistance by Ed Hedemann of the War Resisters League in its issue:

Tax Resistance

by Ed Hedemann

Direct action, as conventionally defined, means those who are adversely affected by a situation are the ones who try to change that situation, rather than appeal to third parties (such as the courts, the government, or the general public). Direct action is often resorted to when other methods seem inadequate, or fail, or need to be supplemented.

When to use direct action is often a controversial question within the movement. Some feel that as long as we have a roughly responsive system, the need to resort to direct action is minimal.

I would like to ask those who question the use of direct action “at what point would you be willing to use such methods? Ever?” Most people might say, "When a problem reaches a state of critical or dangerous proportions, that to wait for or rely on a third party is irresponsible.”

The arms race, the dangers of nuclear power, the poverty and injustices around the world are at such critical stages that we need, individually and collectively, to resist these problems ourselves, in addition to any appeals to third parties. We cannot rely solely on elected or appointed officials and military personnel to be adequate guardians of our safety and well being.

As A.J. Muste once pointed out, “The two decisive powers of government with respect to war are the power to tax and the power to conscript.” For arms race opponents, one of the most direct personal ways to oppose armaments — even with a draft — is tax resistance. A third of the money we pay to the Federal government each year goes to current military. And, if we include past wars, that means half of our Federal income tax goes to wars and the military.

The basic logic and rationale for war tax resistance would be to

  • personally reduce our complicity with the war-making machinery,
  • redirect money to programs which suffer because of the arms race or those organizations actively working against the arms race,
  • make a dramatic statement to the government in opposition to the arms race,
  • offer resistance to the smoothly operating military machine,
  • motivate and inspire others into escalating their opposition to the nuclear arms race.

A Resurgence

Tax resistance isn’t new. Its origins in this country began over 200 years ago with the Quaker and Mennonite opposition to the French and Indian war. Today there are probably several thousand people who are refusing some portion of their income taxes in opposition to the military and perhaps three times as many refusing to pay the Federal tax on telephone service.

There has been a resurgence of tax resistance among elements of the historic peace churches as well as more conventional religious groups. Among the newer efforts to expand tax resistance have been a “Conscience and Military Tax Resolution,” put out by Suffolk County Committee for a World Peace Tax Fund (44 Bellhaven Road, Bellport, NY 11713) which commits signers to withhold the military tax portion of their income taxes when 100,000 have signed up. Also, the Disarmament Program at Riverside Church (122 St. and Riverside Drive, New York, NY 10027) is seeking to collect 25,000 signers to a tax resistance pledge.

The Government response to a person who resists varies greatly. Most people can expect to get a series of notices from the IRS. Often the IRS will attempt to levy a bank account or salary, if they can find either. Occasionally, the IRS has seized property (bicycle, car, even a house) and sold it at a public auction, returning the money less the tax, interest, and penalties.

If the money “owed” is small (less than $100), the IRS may not proceed beyond a few forms. In fact some people have been refusing for over thirty years and have never been collected from. If the IRS is successful in a collection, they will add 12% interest per year and possibly a penalty, which might be a few percent and up. In any case, it usually costs the IRS more money than it collects when dealing with resisters.

A few resisters have been taken to court and jailed from a few days to a few months for claiming too many dependents on their W-4 form, refusing to reveal sources of assets, etc. At any point in this process, the resisters can “bail out” and pay the taxes.

I am not suggesting that tax resistance should be used as a means simply to save money, but as a means to offer resistance and a dramatic protest to World War Ⅲ, U.S. imperialism, and the deterioration of our society. Tax resisters are encouraged to reroute their money to appropriate groups and projects, or at least put it into an alternative fund.

How can we convince the general public and government officials to take more moderate steps, if we—who are so concerned and committed to ending the arms race — aren’t willing to take more daring steps?

Ed Hedemann is on the national staff of the War Resisters League, from whose newsletter this article was taken. Those interested in exploring tax resistance further can write to WRL, 339 Lafayette St., New York, NY 10012 for a free copy of a “Call to War Tax Resistance, or the Tax Resistance Kit, for which they ask $3.

A brief note in the edition of that paper read:

The edition of the Handbook on the Nonpayment of War Taxes, produced by Peacemakers, is now available. It contains information on reasons for not paying war taxes, ways of nonpayment, regulations on filing, listings of war tax resistance counselors and centers, and alternative funds. The price is $1.50 for a single copy. (A discount is available on bulk orders.) To order, or for more information, write to the Peacemakers, Box 627, Garberville, CA 95440, or to Rod Nippert, Route 1, Box 90-B, Amesville, OH 45711.

A National Catholic News Service dispatch from covered the war tax resistance endorsement of Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen:

Archbishop Hunthausen Urges Withholding Taxes to Protest Nuclear Arms

By Greg Manuel

Denouncing the nuclear arms race, Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle called for unilateral disarmament and suggested that Christians refuse to pay 50 percent of their federal income taxes as non-violent resistance “to nuclear murder and suicide.”

Archbishop Hunthausen told about 600 delegates to the Pacific Northwest Synod Convention of the Lutheran Church in America, “to render to a nuclear arms Caesar what that Caesar deserves — tax resistance.”

“I am told by some that unilateral disarmament in the face of atheistic communism is insane. I find myself observing that nuclear armament by anyone is itself atheistic and anything but sane.,” he said in his call to war-tax resistance and a “return to the Gospel with open hearts to learn once again what it is to have faith.”

Archbishop Hunthausen also intensified his opposition to the Trident nuclear submarine base in Puget Sound, saying that people of the Puget Sound area must take special responsibility for what is in their own backyard and speak plainly when crimes are being prepared in their name.

“I say with a deep consciousness of these words that Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound,” he said to the crowd who followed his speech with sustained applause.

“Some would call what I am urging civil disobedience,” the archbishop said. “I prefer to see it as obedience to God.”

“We have to refuse to give incense — in our day, tax dollars — to our nuclear idol,” he said in his call to Christians to become peacemakers.

The archbishop told the crowd that he was grateful for the opportunity to speak on the topic of disarmament because it forced him to a “personal disarmament.”

Archbishop Hunthausen acknowledged that he himself had never refused to pay war taxes.

“I must say in all honesty that my vision of a sizeable number of tax resisters is not yet one which I have tried to realize in the most obvious way — by becoming one of the number… And I recognize there will never such a number unless there are first a few to give the example,” he said.

He did not say definitely whether he will withhold his own taxes in the future.

The archbishop said to realize the implications of the gospel of peace given by Christ, “it is not the way of the cross which is in question in the nuclear age but our willingness to follow it.”

In his statement, delivered as a homily during the opening worship service at the Lutheran convention, Archbishop Hunthausen referred to the beatitude which calls Christians to become peacemakers. He added that the following beatitude in Matthew’s Gospel, “blessed are those who are persecuted in the cause of right, theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” may imply that the consequence of peacemaking — persecution — is a further way into the kingdom.

A follow-up:

Archbishop’s Stand on Nuclear Arms Draws Support

A majority of the Catholic clergy in the Seattle Archdiocese and many Protestant clergymen have indicated support for the stand in favor of unilateral disarmament taken by Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen of Seattle.

Letters to the archdiocesan chancery have been running four to one in favor of the archbishop’s position, officials reported.

And church leaders in Washington state are planning to meet on to draft a joint statement to send to their national denominational offices in support of the archbishop’s call for unilateral disarmament and his suggestion that Christians refuse to pay 50 percent of their federal income tax to protest government spending on nuclear arms. “We hope it will spark a national dialogue,” said the Rev. Loren Arnett, executive director of the Washington Association of Churches.

Some military personnel however visited the archbishop “to express consternation” over his stand, said Father Jeffrey L. Sarkies, executive editor of Catholic Northwest Progress, the archdiocesan newspaper. And retired Adm. Joseph Jaap wrote an article for the daily Seattle Post-Intelligencer to oppose the archbishop’s position.

In a speech on to the Pacific Northwest Synod Convention of the Lutheran Church in America, Archbishop Hunthausen urged the delegates “to render to a nuclear arms Caesar what that Caesar deserves — tax resistance.”

“I am told by some that unilateral disarmament in the face of atheistic communism is insane,” he said. “I find myself observing that nuclear armament by anyone is itself atheistic and anything but sane.”

In a letter published after the archbishop’s speech, Seattle leaders of the Lutheran, United Methodist and United Presbyterian Churches and of the United Church of Christ vowed to “stand publicly with him” and called on clergymen elsewhere in the nation “to give a similar call to action.”

In an article published in the issue of the Catholic Northwest Progres, Archbishop Hunthausen said his suggestion of withholding taxes “is a tactic that may or may not be used by persons who agree with the main points I made on disarmament. I have no intention of urging it strongly on anyone.”

Located in the area covered by the Seattle Archdiocese are the headquarters of the Boeing Company, a military supplier; the Bangor nuclear submarine base, which will soon be home port for 10 Trident submarines; Fort Lewis, an Army base; and McCord Air Force Base

The Catholic Worker reproduced the text of Hunthausen’s speech in its issue (I’ve already reproduced that text in an Picket Line post, so I won’t here). An editorial note accompanying the transcript read in part:

It deserves careful study and much reflection. While it focuses on the nuclear arms stockpile, it can help us reflect on the various manifestations of violence in our world. And in response to the evil around us, Archbishop Hunthausen reminds us that we can take concrete steps to build a better society, if we are willing to take risks. Further, by presenting unilateral disarmament and tax refusal in a moral, rather than a tactical, perspective, he has opened much needed discussion. We welcome this reminder that to build a society based on love rather than fear, we are called by the Gospel to seek a guide for action and a measure for success other than those the world offers.

A brief introduction to tax refusal, contributed by Peggy Scherer, also accompanied the speech transcript:

Tax Refusal

Tax refusal can be approached in many ways. A person thinking of taking this step should consider their motivation, and their willingness and ability to accept the consequences of their action. Yet, while the negative results may range from inconvenience to fines to time in jail, and these realities merit consideration, there are many positive implications as well. Taking one’s money out of a budget which puts a priority on arms rather than services and putting that money into an alternative fund is a positive action. Many see tax refusal as an opportunity to engage in discussion with those working in the Internal Revenue System, and view it as a means for educating those who know of no other alternatives.

Methods of refusal vary. Some people refuse to pay the Federal phone tax, historically connected with military spending. This tax was to have been reduced to 1% this year, but was kept at 2% for the remainder of . Others choose to live on a non-taxable income. Still others refuse to pay all, or part of, their income tax, continuing that witness until possible seizure of property or prosecution by the IRS (which may take months or years, though no one should count on that). Some pay at different points during this process, having taken their stand, and in fact causing the IRS to spend some part of what is being collected.

Various resources offer concrete information on how to refuse, reasons why this path is chosen, and personal accounts of some who have refused taxes:

War Resisters League, 339 Lafayette St., NY, NY 10012 has a Tax Resistance Kit. It contains, among other things, a good handbook called People Pay for Peace, by William Durland, which includes information on the why and how of tax refusal, information on IRS’ collection process, a bibliography of reading material, and a list of counselors and alternative tax funds around the country.

The Peacemaker, P.O. Box 827, Garberville, CA 95440, a movement with a newspaper of the same name, has both a leaflet, called “Saying No to War Taxes,” and a regular column on tax refusal in its paper. Many people connected with the Peacemaker movement have refused taxes for years, and can be very helpful in providing information and personal accounts of their experiences.

The Tax Dilemma: Praying for Peace, Paying for War, by Donald Kaufman, Herald Press, Scottdale, PA 15653, $3.95, discloses the long tradition of Chriatians refusing to pay for war. It is a helpful resource to those considering tax refusal in the light of the teaching of Jesus.

National Catholic News Service continued covering the response to Archbishop Hunthausen’s speech. This comes from a dispatch:

Religious Leaders Back Archbishop’s Disarmament Plea

Sixteen leaders of nine denominations in Washington state strongly backed a recent call for unilateral U.S. nuclear disarmament by Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle.

In a separate action the Catholic Biblical Association at its annual meeting in Seattle passed a resolution praising the archbishop’s “courageous witness to the urgent need for nuclear disarmament.”

Archbishop Hunthausen issued the call in a speech in Tacoma, Wash., to the Pacific Northwest Synod Conference of the Lutheran Church in America. He urged Americans to “render to a nuclear Caesar what that Caesar deserves — tax resistance.”

The 16 church leaders — bishops or executive heads of denominations affiliated with the Washington Association of Churches — said at a press conference following a private meeting that they planned to issue a joint statement on nuclear disarmament soon and take several other steps to begin discussion, prayer and action on the issue within their churches.

“The response of the other leaders of the churches in our state (to Archbishop Hunthausen’s talk) could be summarized in the word ‘bravo!’ ” the Rev. Loren Arnett, executive minister of the Washington Association of Churches, told reporters after the meeting.

“We’ve been waiting for someone in our group to have the courage to forthrightly state the commitment that the archbishop declared that day in Tacoma,” he added. “We’ve termed it prophetic, we regard it as preaching God’s word in the best sense.”

United Methodist Bishop Melvin G. Talbert commented, “We do endorse his stance and in addition we intend to take further steps.”

The group said it had decided to

  • Draft a joint statement on nuclear disarmament and the arms race in the near future, based on Archbishop Hunthausen’s talk;
  • Work with their constituencies to heighten awareness of the moral issues involved in nuclear arms proliferation;
  • Encourage prayer and discussion over the archbishop’s recommendation of tax resistance as a possible strategy specifying that tax funds withheld should be channeled to peace efforts;
  • Urge their people to fast and pray each Monday to increase awareness of the enormity of the nuclear arms race;
  • Advance education for peace in the state and organize a statewide peace conference in the near future.

The group also agreed to start a dialogue with congressional delegations on the nuclear arms issue and to use prayer and non-violent means to express concern over the Trident nuclear submarine and its role in nuclear arms proliferation.

In his address to the Lutheran Synod Conference Archbishop Hunthausen had referred to the Trident base in Puget Sound as a “back yard” issue which people in the Pacific Northwest “must take special responsibility for.”

He said the Trident submarine with its ability to fire 408 nuclear warheads at separate targets, represents a first-strike nuclear doctrine by the U.S. government.

“First strike nuclear weapons are immoral and criminal,” he said, and “Trident is the Auschwitz of Puget Sound.”

The church leaders who attended the special meeting and backed Archbishop Hunthausen’s disarmament plea represented nine of the 10 churches affiliated with the Washington Association of Churches. No representative of the Church of the Brethren was present.

Catholics besides Archbishop Hunthausen included three other bishops in the state and officials from the Washington State Catholic Conference.

Non-Catholic churches or church agencies represented were the American Baptist Churches of the Northwest, the Episcopal Diocese of Olympia, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, the United Methodists, the United Church of Christ, the United Presbyterians, and the United Church-Disciples of Christ.

The Catholic Biblical Associations resolution supporting Archbishop Hunthausen passed without a negative vote and with only three abstentions among the more than 150 Scripture scholars attending the meeting, said Benedictine Father Joseph Jensen, executive secretary of the CBA.

The resolution said that “the nuclear arms race is a moral issue of the greatest magnitude” and “the biblical tradition emphasized that our trust must be placed in God rather than in armaments.”

The CBA commended Archbishop Hunthausen “for his courageous witness to the urgent need for nuclear disarmament and for creative constructive efforts to foster peace.”

There were also a few mentions-in-passing of Hunthausen’s call for tax resistance in other dispatches about increasing church activism on the nuclear weapons issue. A Catholic institution began resisting its phone tax, according to this National Catholic News Service dispatch:

Reaction to Parish Tax Resistance Decision Varies

The decision by the St. Thomas Aquinas Parish Council to withhold the federal tax portion of its phone bill to protest the U.S. arms buildup has met with a varied but basically favorable reaction, said Philip Schervish, parish council president.

“Many people agreed wholeheartedly and support what we’re doing,” said Schervish, who spoke at all Masses on . “Through the resolution some people have learned for the first time about the church’s position on armaments and escalation and are now considering what their own personal response should be.

“And some other people agree in principle but disagree with the specific action that was chosen.”

Schervish acknowledged that “a small but vocal minority” said the action was against the law or asked “How dare you criticize the government?”

He said the parish will mount a month-long educational effort in , which will include printed materials, films and discussion opportunities after Sunday Masses and at other times.

St. Thomas’s federal taxes on its phone bill probably will amount to no more than about $50, Schervish said. There is a penalty of 12 percent going up to 20 percent in , on any unpaid taxes, if the Internal Revenue Service chooses to collect it. Schervish said he doubts that will happen. He said he and his wife have withheld these taxes for 12 years and the IRS has collected the money only twice.

“For individuals or the parish, the amount isn’t that much,” he said. “The witness value is what’s important, the decision that we can’t voluntarily participate in the system.”

Frank Savage, Indianapolis archdiocesan superintendent of education, said his office has sent out a statement outlining church teaching on disarmament with its regular mailing to all pastors, school principals and directors of religious education. The statement was drafted out of concern for the apparent military buildup and proliferation of military arms, Savage said. He added that “as educators we need to be aware of our responsibility and the church’s teachings on the issue.”

He said archdiocesan high schools are considering offering a short course in war and peace issues.