War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1961

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

By , war tax resistance, or at least increased anxiety about paying war taxes, has surfaced in the Society of Friends, and we can see evidence of this in the pages of Friends Journal from .

Groping towards a “peace tax” plan

The war tax resister’s equivalent to the alchemist’s “philosopher’s stone” is the “peace tax” — which is capable of turning the leaden bullets of taxes for war into the golden promise of taxes only for the nice things. Like the philosopher’s stone, its existence has been theorized a great deal and demonstrated very little. In , Friends began their search for the legendary beast.

In the issue is a mention that the Peace Committee of the Pacific Yearly Meeting had begun circulating a preliminary plan for something it called a “civilian income tax bill” in order “to sound out the interest of the peace movement before deciding whether to press for legislation, and specifically to get reactions to the stipulation that pacifists taking advantage of paying into the suggested alternative, UNICEF, would be willing to be taxed an extra five per cent. No other test of religious objection to military defense, such as is presently required of draft age C.O.s is proposed.” Egbert Hayes of Claremont, California, is given as the contact person for this effort.

A follow-up article in the issue draws the comparison between this effort and the ongoing effort of some of the Amish to win a conscientious objection from the social security system, but notes that “little support has been found [for conscientious objection to military taxation] from the newspaper writers and members of Congress who defended the Amish.”

In reply to the suggestion that conscientious citizens should have a right to “vote with their tax dollars” for alternatives to war, Senator Joseph S. Clark wrote that this “would cause great harm to our country’s fiscal system.”

He may have anticipated that those “voting” in such a way would be much more numerous than the members of small sects or groups, since many who do not think of themselves as pacifists might agree that there is a dangerous disproportion between the national expenditures for military threats and for the winning of world friendship.

Some thought had been given to the possibility that if “civilian” tax payers paid their money to UNICEF, Congress might simply reduce its own $12 million contributions to UNICEF and divert that money back to the non-civilian budget. Also:

The Claremont bill, better as a proof of sincerity than the questionnaire method used by draft boards (who are no experts in theology), calls for tax payments that are five per cent greater than the computed tax and for publication of names. The latter we could achieve now without waiting for an act of Congress. Willingness to take an unpopular stand before one’s community is a surer test of conscience than any judicial inquisition. And it is exactly the thing needed if we are to influence opinion.

As shown by many cases of war-tax refusers who have had property seized, there may be no real alternative to the payment of a required number of dollars by those of a certain income level. Some write a protest on their tax returns, but this kind of protest, like the secret ballot, is far from enough. As John Sykes pointed out in his book on The Quakers: A New Look at Their Place in Society, the prosperity and bourgeois status of the Quakers after their years of persecution silenced them in more ways than one. And they are not more silenced than thousands of their natural allies, unknown and isolated, having other religious or nontheistic backgrounds. It is not a Hamlet’s conscience that “makes cowards of us all,” but the structure of society with its oligarchy or power elite controlling most forms of employment and mass media.

The article continues in this vein for a while, explaining why it’s so difficult to stand up and dissent, and how even those who work up the courage to do so are so frequently drowned out, dismissed, or ignored.

[W]hy should not each Meeting, each local peace group, write its own statement, secure signatures from as many sympathizers as possible, and distribute copies? The actionists do not always take time for reasoning or for a dignified approach that will persuade people to hear their reasons. But they are right: reasoning is not enough. It takes the combination of reason and personal courage; it takes individual decisions which do not wait for either our own or enemy governments to disarm. We can rarely escape taxes, but we can speak.

There was another movement gaining interest in Quaker circles around this time, in which people were voluntarily taxing themselves one or two percent of their incomes and sending this money to the United Nations, which, at that time, was still seen by many people to have potential as a sort of global arbitrator or adjudicator that might “take away the occasion of war” (this in the face of the fact that the U.N. had recently authorized the U.S. war in Korea). I don’t see much evidence of overlap between the people advocating this and the people rekindling interest in war tax resistance, but the fact that this was in the air probably helped to shape the “peace tax” plans and redirection efforts that followed. One note in the issue does seem to suggest that war tax redirection was one motivation for people participating in this voluntary U.N. tax project:

An opinion of the legal department of the United Nations has made clear that gifts to the U.N. or to its specialized agencies are not tax-deductible.

Any checks sent directly to the controller of the United Nations should be marked for a specific program to avoid having them go to the general fund of the U.N. and thereby merely reduce the assessments of member governments.

Here’s another note of interest on this topic, from the issue:

The Friends Meeting at Pittsburgh, Pa., has expressed publicly its serious concern for the Amish farmer whose work horses were recently seized by the Internal Revenue Service for nonpayment of social security taxes. Friends see in this infringement upon an act of conscience a much broader threat against all those who will not cooperate with the government in support of war and preparation for war. They point to the alternative of voluntary payments to special U.N. funds in addition to income tax payments.

Maurice McCrackin

In , the Presbytery of Cincinnati began defrocking the Reverend Maurice McCrackin, ostensibly because they thought his war tax resistance was unbecoming of a minister (some suspect it was his work against racial segregation that really raised the ire of his foes — his church was the first in Cincinnati to be integrated). The Friends Journal kept an eye on the case.

In the issue, a contributor notes that the racially-mixed children’s camp “Camp Joy” was having financial difficulty because of the church action against McCracken, the camp’s administrator.

The Camp Joy Committee has this past year purchased a 314-acre farm as a new site since in the Cincinnati Park Board refused to turn on the water at the previous site, which was Park Board property, because of the income-tax stand of two staff members.

It seems unlikely that a regional park board would actually have a policy of refusing to turn on the water for clients who were behind on their federal income taxes, so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt to those who suspect that animosity to his racial integration projects was probably behind the trouble.

The issue noted that “Almost every day brings to the Journal office fresh protests or statements opposing the military venture of the United States in Vietnam.” One of these came from McCracken:

Copies of an appeal to those who wish to withdraw their support from war (particularly the U.S. war in Vietnam) by refusing to pay all or part of their income taxes or by reducing their incomes to a nontaxable level are available from the No Tax for War in Vietnam Committee, c/o the Reverend Maurice McCrackin, 932 Dayton Street, Cincinnati, Ohio.

Incorporated in the appeal is a statement to which tax-refusers can sign their names and addresses. Signed statements sent to Maurice McCrackin before the tax deadline will be used by the Committee as the basis for releasing to the press on that day names and addresses of the signers. The Committee suggests also that copies of the statement be printed in publications, posted on bulletin boards, and read in meetings by those who have signed them.

The issue had a larger article about the Presbytery’s inquisition against McCracken. Excerpts:

The presbytery has shown inconsistency and indecision… In , after Maurice McCrackin’s release from prison, the presbytery issued a statement of support, saying, “Rev. McCrackin has not broken his ordination vows. It is not the function of the presbytery to collect taxes, and we find the West Cincinnati-St. Barnabas Church and its pastor are bearing a strong witness to Jesus Christ.”

Maurice McCrackin was tried in a civil trial in , but the charge was not his nonpayment of income tax for the past eleven years. He was charged only with not answering a summons to come to the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He was carried into the courtroom because he would not walk, and he would not stand before the judge. On this charge he served a six-month term at Allenwood Federal Prison.

“All the while our community work was expanding,” he recalled in a sermon on the Sunday before the first hearing of the trial, “cold war tensions were increasing. Nuclear bombs were fast being stockpiled, and reports were heard of new and deadlier weapons about to be made. Fresh in my mind were the bombed cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.… If churches, settlement houses, schools, if anything were to survive in Cincinnati or anywhere else, something must be done about the armaments race.… I preached about the dangers which the entire world faced.… I was preaching, but what was I doing?

“If I can honestly say that Jesus would support conscription,” he concluded, “throw a hand grenade, or with a flame thrower drive men out of caves to become living torches, if I believe he would release the bomb over Hiroshima or Nagasaki, then I not only have the right to do these things as a Christian; I am even obligated to do them. But if I believe that Jesus would do none of these things, then I have no choice but to refuse, at whatever personal cost, to support war.”

The charges are:

  1. The Rev. Maurice McCrackin has resisted the ordinances of God, in that upon pretense of Christian liberty he has opposed the civil lawful power, and the lawful exercise of it…
  2. He has published erroneous opinions and maintained practices which are destructive to the external peace and order which Christ hath established in the Church…
  3. He has failed to obey the lawful commands and to be subject to the authority of civil magistrates, [all these actions being]… contrary to the Constitution of the United Presbyterian Church, U.S.A. (Confession of Faith, chapter 20, paragraph 4, and chapter 23, paragraph 4).

Specifications of these charges include the withholding of income tax, the failure to file returns, and advocating that others do the same.

“I felt free,” said Maurice McCrackin, when he was in the grip of the criminal court. “I could not have walked. I doubt if my feet would have functioned. Had I walked I would have felt I was in prison, but in not walking I felt that I was free.… It may be that the authorities will again take possession of my body; but it is my earnest purpose, God being my helper, that no man, no circumstance, no place shall be allowed to take possession of my spirit and my conscience.”

In its issue, Friends Journal reported the Presbytery’s decision to suspend McCracken, and McCracken’s decision to appeal.

A follow-up in the issue noted “the strangeness of a verdict that acquiesces in the motivation of the defendant but in effect finds him ‘guilty’ for failure to test the income tax law in the civil court. The seeds of the presbytery trial go back three years,” according to Christian Century commentator Virgie Bernhardt, a Quaker, “to reactionary forces stirred up in the community by McCrackin’s integration activities.”

A further follow-up in the issue noted that McCracken’s appeal “to the Permanent Judicial Commission of the United Presbyterian Synod of Ohio” was accepted. The Commission “rebuked the Cincinnati presbytery for its ‘unduly severe’ judgment and the lack of proof that the minister had disturbed the peace of the Church, as the local presbytery had charged.” They told the local presbytery to try again.

The following year, in the issue, a brief notice mentions that the United Presbyterian General Assembly approved McCracken’s dismissal, and notes that 28 members of his church have split off from the Presbyterians as a result and have formed a new church under McCracken’s ministry.

It’s hard not to see all of this attention given to an internal battle in another church as a proxy for an anticipated controversy that was just beginning to stir in the Society of Friends.

(McCracken would return to the pages of the Journal to tell his own story in the issue.)

Other war tax resistance mentions

A report on the Switzerland Yearly Meeting in the issue read: “We were stimulated by the call to action and the living witness of several Swiss Friends who regularly refuse to pay their taxes for military expenditure and then bear the consequences.”

The issue includes a letter to the editor from J.H. Davenport in which he writes, “I would be glad if through the Friends Journal it could be made known that some Friends (at least one) regret that some members feel it right to participate in so-called ‘civil defense’ activities, ‘national defense’ contracts, and the payment of income taxes, the major portion of which goes to so-called ‘defense’ activities of the national government, especially when the name of Friends is used as a sort of endorsement. ¶ I have taken the liberty of painting in the word ‘SOME’ in front of the poster that I have been carrying during my lunch hour in front of the New York City Civil Defense headquarters. The poster now reads, more truthfully, ‘SOME Quakers say No to All War.’…”

The issue has one of the earliest mentions of a Quaker meeting formally encouraging war tax resistance:

Yellow Springs Meeting, Ohio, has been deeply concerned about support of the national defense policy through payment of federal income taxes. Some of the members have chosen to be conscientious tax refusers. The following is an excerpt from a statement approved by the Meeting in : “We recognize that payment of federal income tax, like service in the armed forces, is a demand which may properly move Quakers and other responsible citizens to take a position of conscientious objection.

“Provided their action is imbued with a spirit of humble honesty and loving social or religious dedication, we support both those who are conscientiously impelled to pay their taxes in full, and those who undertake conscientious resistance to war taxes. Such conscientious resistance may take many forms: refusing to pay part or all of the tax, refusing to file a return, working only at a job where no tax is withheld from wages, intentionally keeping one’s income so low that it is not taxable, resisting coercion by tax collectors, courts, and their agents, supporting other resistors and their families, and giving public testimony and witness. We feel that persons undertaking nonviolent civil disobedience should be prepared to accept the consequences.

“We urge Congress and the President to consider legislation permitting conscientious tax objectors to choose alternative service for that portion of their tax dollars which would otherwise be assigned to military purposes.”