War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in
There was a great deal about war tax resistance in the Friends Journal in , in part because of the occupation of the Randy Kehler/Betsy Corner home which the IRS was trying to auction off, and in part because of the IRS suit against the Journal to try to force it to pay its editor’s resisted taxes, and in part because of the Peace Tax Fund bill’s first congressional hearing.
A note in the issue pointed out that politicians were playing a name game that had apparently fooled some Quakers into thinking that the telephone excise tax had been transformed into something benign:
The telephone tax continues as a source of money for military expenditure, contrary to recent confusion about its status. The tax, which was due to expire in , was extended under the Act for Better Child Care. Those who proposed the act were searching for a way to fmance their new program and seized upon the telephone tax as their “new” source of money. However, the phone tax revenues continue to go into the General Fund, as always, and are not earmarked for the child care programs. More than 50 percent of the General Fund is used for military expenditure. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee recommends that conscientious resistance to the telephone tax continue, as it can have a powerful impact if enough people are involved.
That issue also had a follow-up on the “Alternative Revenue Service” protest:
In , the Alternative Revenue Service reports that individuals redirected $104,740 of their federal income taxes away from the military to areas of human need. The total includes $12,898 redirected through the ARS, $38,416 redirected by Alternative Funds, and $53,426 that individuals redirected to social action and relief programs. The Alternative Revenue Service campaign is designed to educate taxpayers about how their federal income tax dollars are used. The service provides the EZ Peace Form, which participants can use in registering their opposition to military spending at the time they ftle their taxes. The service reports that 70,000 EZ Peace Forms were distributed nationwide last year. This year’s form is simplified, with clearer instructions.
The issue brought the news that the Peace Tax Fund promoters had finally managed to get a Congressional Committee hearing for their bill, which was scheduled for . “The hearing will be informational to determine the need for such legislation, not a preparation for floor action. The need is assessed from the testimony of both individuals and religious bodies. The hearing will support the bill by providing a permanent public record, by lending it legitimacy, by possibly attracting more serious consideration from prospective cosponsors, and by providing a record of congressional scrutiny. The hearing will be brief, not lending itself to extended exchanges. However, written testimony can be added and will become part of the official record.”
A follow-up in described the latest Peace Tax Fund bill as one that “would amend the Internal Revenue Code to permit qualified conscientious objectors to have part of their federal taxes — that part equal to the military portion of the federal budget — to be paid into a fund for peace-related projects.” It encouraged readers to submit “written testimony for the official hearing record,” to publicize and perhaps attend the hearing, to contact Congressional representatives and encourage them to attend and to support the bill, and to donate money to the cause.
The issue described how the hearing before the House Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures went — “the first actual hearing held since a Peace Tax Fund Bill was first introduced in Congress .” Excerpts:
“If we give the right to a person to withhold their body from a war as a conscientious objector, that person should be able to withhold his money as well.”
So spoke Sen. Mark Hatfield in his lead-off testimony…
…Several hundred spectators from across the country packed the hearing room. Many attended as concerned individual taxpayers. Others came as members of religious denominations and peace groups long associated with the Peace Tax Campaign. Three chartered buses, one from Lancaster, Pa., two others from Philadelphia, swelled the numbers by some 150 supporters. When the last of them filed in from a late-arriving bus to find all spectator seats occupied, Chairman Charles Rangel stopped the hearings momentarily, inviting standing-room only observers to move forward and to occupy empty seats normally reserved for officials and the press. Many did so. Veterans of peace demonstrations, several parents holding small children, young bearded men in simple dress, older couples from the peace churches created a colorful patchwork as they mixed with congressional aides, heads of foundations, and Capitol bureaucrats in business suits.
…Over 2,300 letters in support of the Peace Tax Fund Bill were bound in large volumes and set on a front table to be presented to the committee. From 50–100 such letters a day continued to arrive as of the time of the hearing.
Following the introductory testimony of Mark Hatfield, lead sponsor of the bill (S.689) in the Senate, there were also presentations by four members of Congress: Andy Jacobs (lead sponsor of the bill in the House), Nancy Pelosi, and John Conyers.…
…[A] panel of religious leaders testified. One, Thomas Gumbleton, Roman Catholic bishop from Detroit, and past president of Pax Christi, pointed out that two of the first leaders of the church, John and Peter, said that sometimes it is necessary to obey God before obeying the law. How much better it would be, Gumbleton said, for COs to be able to pay all their taxes, knowing their money would be used for life-affirming purposes.
William Davidson, retired Episcopal bishop of western Kansas, a CO in World War Ⅱ, has actively opposed war . “Having lived past draft age, I have been saddened and conflicted each year having to pay taxes to support war,” he said. The Episcopal Peace Fellowship has consistently supported war tax resistance as a religious witness.
John A. Lapp, executive secretary of Mennonite Central Committee, Akron, Pa., spoke on behalf of the three historic peace churches (Mennonites, Quakers, and Church of the Brethren). The issue of war-related taxes is one of religious freedom, Lapp said. “Many of us feel the pain of having our religious institutions serve as tax collectors for war.”
During committee questioning, Representative Jacobs asked Rabbi [Phil] Bentley [with the Jewish Peace Fellowship], “Is [passage of this bill] going to give rise to requests for similar legislation from people who don’t want their money going for a golf course?”
“This is not a political issue, but a moral issue of conscience,” responded Bentley…
Jacobs, in response, thanked the Rabbi and others of religious conscience who had testified. “I am a sponsor of this bill,” he said, “but I am not a pacifist.” He called to mind one of his favorite movies, Friendly Persuasion, and the lines spoken toward the end of the film: “It’s good to know that somebody is holding out for a better way of settling things!”
Terrill Hyde, tax legislative counsel for the Department of the Treasury, presented the Bush Administration position opposing the PTF. She mentioned “problems of complexity, confusion, and increased administrative burden,” sure to arise if the bill were passed. There would be no deterrent either, she said, to restrain taxpayers from inappropriately claiming CO status. If taxpayers were allowed to designate the uses for which their tax dollars were spent, “our entire budgetary process would be undermined.” There would likely be loss of revenue to needed federal programs.
Others, however, presented differing views. Several speakers argued that there would likely be substantial increases in revenue as a direct result of the bill. Many who currently refuse to pay a portion or all of their taxes would gladly pay. Also, large costs resulting from IRS efforts to collect from tax resisters would be avoided. Answering the criticism of how the act might increase paperwork and administrative costs, several people testified to the simple nature of the bill and of the tax filing process.
As to IRS claims that the bill raises possible legal questions, a panel of two law specialists responded. Mark Tushnet, professor of law at Georgetown University, said, “A nation that wants to protect the religious freedom of its citizens can reasonably be expected to enact legislation to enable the freedom to be expressed.” It seems perfectly appropriate, he concluded, that such legislation be enacted. “It is needed in addition to the Religious Freedom Act.”
Philadelphia, Pa., attorney and war tax specialist Peter Goldberger agreed. “Legislation of this kind has a noble history in our country,” and he quoted from a letter from then-President George Washington to Philadelphia Quakers. The nation’s laws, Washington wrote, must always be “extensively accommodated” in cases of individual conscience.
Alan Eccleston, a Quaker and an organizational development consultant from Hadley, Massachusetts, told about how, in his own tax witness, he has endured penalties, punishments, and the threat of losing his home. The IRS has a lien on his house right now. “Conscience must be taken into account. Spiritual values are real. They are not to be treated as incidental or expendable to fit the needs of the state. This is what the First Amendment is all about.”
Ruth Flower, legislative secretary of Friends Committee on National Legislation, emphasized that the Peace Tax Fund Act would not offer an escape to those who do not wish to pay their taxes, because they would have to pay the same amount either way. It would, however, provide a legal way out of violating one’s religious beliefs in order to comply with the laws of the land.
Her point was born out by Patricia Washburn, who gave perhaps the most moving testimony of the hearing. She talked about the challenge presented to each of us, and to her personally, in Micah 6:8: “…what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love constantly, and to walk humbly with your God?” Walking humbly requires us to acknowledge the seeds of violence in our own hearts, rather than projecting them onto someone else. “Loving constantly” can be a discouraging and difficult task, especially in today’s climate of distrust and alienation.
“I am not opposed to paying taxes, but I find no alternative form of tax payment… Thus, I see no current alternative to withholding the military portion of my taxes… I pray that my witness is done in love and that it will help to build a bridge across the chasm of violence and fear.”
After the hearing and following the press conference, [Marian] Franz [executive director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund] gave a brief workshop on lobbying for the bill. She pointed out that the testimony would now be entered in written record and could be referred to in the future. She added, “the fact that we got a hearing is absolutely amazing.” Many other pieces of legislation have not yet been so lucky, and the demand is great. “If all members of the committee had been present, they all would have been deeply moved, and we would be a lot further down the road.”
Franz encouraged people, when lobbying, to talk in terms of conscience, as defined by Pope John ⅩⅩⅢ, who said, “Deep inside, each one of us finds a law that we did not put there. It tells us to do this and shun that.” That is what puts the issue of paying taxes for war in the arena of religious decisions and touches on every individual’s right to follow their faith — whether they are housewives, bureaucrats, lawyers, teachers, or politicians.
That is why it is important to keep trying to open doors and ears and minds. Marian Franz has a suggestion for how to approach people: “Talk to aides and legislators as though you’re sharing something personally. You will often find that when you are talking about conscience, people are moved deeply.”
The issue also plugged “Good Use: Songs of Peace, Tax & Conscience” — “a tape of War Tax Resister Songs, featuring Charlie King, Luci Murphy, Geof Morgan, Lifeline, and others. It was produced by Don Walsh, who donates the royalties.”
The lead editorial (by Vinton Deming) in the issue concerned the ongoing Randy Kehler/Betsy Corner case:
Randy Kehler and his wife, Betsy Corner, have been tax resisters . They have given the tax money instead to a variety of groups doing constructive community work. the IRS has been trying to sell their house in Colrain, Mass., in an effort to collect $25,896 in back taxes — but it hasn’t been easy.
First of all, there’s been a growing tax resistance movement there in Franklin County. Bob Bady and Pat Morse, for instance, had their house seized and auctioned in . (They still live in the house, however, and the buyer hasn’t taken possession.) Shelburn Falls dentist Tom Wilson had his dental license revoked when he refused to cooperate with IRS. (He continues his practice, however; even the local sheriff remains one of his regular patients).
So when the word got out that IRS planned to auction Betsy and Randy’s house, supporters in large numbers turned up on the announced day to oppose the sale. There were lots of signed bids (such as an offer to clean the teeth of an IRS agent, others pledging to do community work or to be peace activists for life) — but no cash buyers came forward. Not a one.
So, in , IRS upped the ante. Betsy, Randy, and daughter Lillian, 12, were given an eviction notice. When Randy decided to stay, he was held in contempt and tossed in the county jail for 6 months.
This didn’t go unnoticed by friends and neighbors, however. A sign-up sheet got circulated, and volunteers committed themselves to stay in the house around the clock. There’s been a continuous presence there . Groups from as far away as Washington, D.C., have signed up to come and help out. In , members of Mount Toby (Mass.) Meeting formed such an affinity group for a week.
Meanwhile, Randy stays in jail and makes the most of his time there. He has made friends with many of the prisoners, has organized a chess tournament, and does what he can to interpret his tax witness. Allan Eccleston, member of Mount Toby Meeting, has been approved as the meeting’s official minister and visits Randy twice a week.
So what’s next? IRS has scheduled another auction, this time out of the area in Springfield, Mass. — in the hope, it seems, of attracting a buyer for the house, someone who doesn’t know about this whole chain of events. Randy will not be there to talk about it, but lots of his friends will. Even if the house is sold, the issue will be far from over. The house is part of a land trust (Randy and Betsy own the house but not the land on which it stands) — and there’s the likelihood of a continuing nonviolent presence in the house to welcome any potential new buyer.
How might Friends respond? I asked this question in of Francis Crowe, long-time head of the American Friends Service Committee office in western Massachusetts and a supporter of Randy and Betsy. She suggests:
- Form an affinity group to help sustain the presence in the house. (To be scheduled, contact Traprock Peace Center…
- Funds are also needed to support the action (checks made out to “War Tax Refusers Support Committee”…).
- Letters to the editor on the subject of taxes and militarism are always helpful.
- More sponsors are needed in Congress for the Peace Tax Fund bill.…
At a rally in support of Betsy and Randy, Juanita Nelson — who, with husband Wally, has been a tax refuser for decades and is known to many Friends — offered these words by Goethe: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has Genius, Power, and Magic in it.” Good advice as another tax season is upon us, when many of us seek to find our way on this difficult question of taxes for war.
In a later issue, David Zarembka reported in a letter-to-the-editor about how the occupation / blockade of the Kehler/Corner home was proceeding:
On , federal marshalls arrested seven members of the Flowing River Affinity Group who were occupying the Kehler/Corner home and removed the furniture into storage. At , the IRS sold the house to the highest bidder in an auction for $5,400. The seven affinity group members were released from jail later in the afternoon. So was Randy, who had served two months of his sentence.
Do not think, however, that Betsy and Randy have lost their home in an exotic cause! As soon as the federal marshalls left the house, an affinity group reoccupied it, and other groups, including one from Washington, D.C., of which I am a member, have continued to occupy the house on a 24-hour basis. Affinity groups, which occupy the home for a week each, have been organizing , but new ones are still being formed…
The “buyers,” a young couple with a two-month-old son, have visited the house several times but have not as yet forced the issue. They are consulting with their lawyers. Betsy and Randy have become members of the Colrain Neighbors Affinity Group, which will occupy the home for the week beginning . They and their twelve-year-old daughter, Lillian, will move back into their home when they can comfortably live there once again.
I would hope that this action would lead Friends to consider how their cooperation with the federal tax collection process — even those who are symbolic tax resisters or those who force the IRS to take their taxes from them — allows the present military system to thrive.
A report in that issue on the Canadian Yearly Meeting that had taken place noted that:
Canadian Yearly Meeting, in its role of employer, was asked to refuse to remit that portion of its employees’ taxes that will be used to support the military. Concern was expressed by the yearly meeting’s trustees, who would bear the legal results of such actions. Although the yearly meeting came close to supporting a minute for this action, it agreed to seek clearness with the trustees and monthly meetings and return to this issue next year.
The issue was largely devoted to war tax resistance. It began with an editorial from Vinton Deming concerning his war tax resistance and the response of his employer, the Journal. Excerpt:
From the outset, I knew it wasn’t a very practical thing to do. The government was too powerful, and all the tax laws were against me. I’d just end up paying much more in the end, so why not choose a better way to work for peace? A good letter to my congressman, for instance, or a tax vigil at the federal building on Apri1 15.
But this was in . Our war in Vietnam was just over, but the Cold War continued. As the Reagan years unfolded, with still larger military expenditures and big cuts in domestic programs, I became even more clear: I must resist as fully as possible the payment of taxes for war.
The Journal board was always supportive of my witness. It refused twice to honor IRS levies on my wages. In doing so, Friends openly accepted the possibility of being taken to court one day and fined severely. The board wrote to IRS: “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.”
Well, as they say, “What goes ’round comes ’round.” , Friends Journal was told by the U.S. Justice Department to pay up or we’d be taken to court.…
I am grateful for the steadfastness of the Journal’s board of managers. , it has been faithful to the Quaker peace testimony. The road has been an uncertain and confusing one at many points, but Friends have shown courage in continuing.
In my own personal war tax journey, these words by John Stoner have served to guide: “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.”
Sam Legg, clerk of the Friends Journal Board of Managers, gave his take on the Deming situation and on why the Journal had decided to throw in the towel and pay the IRS’s demands. Excerpts:
… Vinton refused to pay any federal taxes. Each tax year he sent a blank 1040 along with a letter to the president explaining his opposition to war and his unwillingness as a Friend to pay for it. Since there was no Peace Tax Fund, Vinton reasoned, he would instead contribute the money to worthwhile projects and see that it was used for peaceful purposes. In , the IRS served a levy on Friends Journal for $22,714.16, Vinton’s taxes for the period, plus interest and penalties. The IRS asked Friends Journal to withhold part of Vinton’s salary each month, but the Journal Board refused, writing that “We… are in support of Vinton Deming’s conscientious witness.”
In , Friends Journal received a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice reminding us of the levy on Vinton’s salary and asking us to try to “resolve this matter short of litigation.” That is, to pay the original assessed amount plus interest and a possible 50 percent penalty on the total. We were given until to respond.
If we were to continue refusing to honor the levy, an immediate court action would follow. The U.S. Supreme Court decision, Smith vs. Oregon, as Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the American Friends Service Committee have learned, teaches us that there is no way we could win such a case in court, nor could our assets be protected from seizure. More troubling, this seizure could make others who are not involved in our decision, undergo unwelcome investigation. Finally, a court case offers IRS the opportunity to set a legal precedent requiring the payment of the 50 percent penalty (which a sympathetic judge excused in the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting case last year). We fear that the inevitable negative decision could establish that precedent and thereby restrict other individuals’ or groups’ religious freedom. And so, most reluctantly, the Friends Journal Board has agreed to negotiate with IRS and to pay the least amount IRS will accept ($31,300) as settlement of this claim.
Our painful recognition of failure is heavy upon us. We have to accept that our witness in its present form can no longer serve a useful purpose. We can hope Vinton’s action and our support will have brought the issue of tax refusal to the attention of others, thereby becoming a part of the tradition of citizen pressure that in the long run eliminates or diminishes social evils such as slavery and war.
Our protest is on record. What we will do now is support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of … which aims to reestablish the first amendment religious rights lost in the Smith vs. Oregon decision. We also urge support for the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill… which makes the same witness, but provides money to finance peace-enhancing projects. (Needless to say, if there had been a Peace Tax Fund in , Vinton’s taxes would have been paid gladly, and there would have been no need for an IRS levy.) We ask all those who share our concerns to join in these legal approaches to the continuing effort to convince ourselves and others of the futility of armed conflict and the necessity of finding other means to resolve human disputes.
The immediate financial challenge to the Journal is a very real one. In a year in which we already face a substantial budget deficit, the payment of such a large lump sum adds an enormous burden. Vinton has engaged to repay the Journal through payroll deductions over time. We have been heartened as well, as word of our tax witness spreads, to receive gifts of support from our readers. One contributor writes: “I hope everyone at the Friends Journal can be made aware of Friends’ approval of [your] Board action. To help this happen, I encourage the Journal to go as public with the story as is consistent with respect for Vint’s privacy and the Journal’s limited resources. I am convinced that other Friends will wish to help financially when so informed.” For such words, and unexpected gifts, we are most grateful.
Readers wrote in with their feedback about the Journal’s decision, and some of their letters were printed in the issue:
- Duane Magill wrote to “applaud” and “sympathize” with the Journal’s stand. “As a war tax resister myself for the past quarter of a century, I have had some brushes with the IRS myself and know what it is like. I also appreciate your giving publicity to the subject. I know that not many Quakers take this position, and giving the matter this extensive coverage just might encourage more to take this stand.”
- Yvonne Boeger wrote in on behalf of the Live Oak (Texas) Meeting to say that the meeting had recently “discussed the importance of war tax resistance as a means of witnessing to Friends’ long-standing opposition to all forms of war and violence” and that the Meeting was supportive of the Journal’s (and Deming’s) action. “We send the enclosed check as a token of our support and solidarity in Friends’ resistance to war. Thank you for the example you have set for us all.”
- Lillian and George Willoughby wrote to express gratitude for the Journal’s “courage in standing in support of Vint Deming.” They wrote: “Most important is the example of a Quaker religious employer providing support to staff who endeavor to live according to Friends’ teachings. The Journal has run considerable risk and incurred heavy expenses. We enclose our check as a demonstration of our support. We think that many other Friends will want to help carry the financial burden of this witness.”
- An editorial note in the letters column expressed “thanks to all those who have sent checks!” and a later editorial note (in the issue) said that they had received “$8,000 from individuals and meetings, $7,000 from a Sufferings Fund of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting,” and almost $4,000 from Deming himself.
Mennonite war tax resister (and, according to his author bio, “itinerant prophet and spiritual retreat leader”) John K. Stoner wrote about the call he got from an IRS employee. Excerpts:
We talked for about ten minutes, as I explained why Janet and I had said “no” to paying the full amount of our income tax. The man could not understand why anyone would invite the collection pressures of the IRS upon themselves by withholding some taxes. But by the time the conversation was over, he was a little closer to understanding that this was, for us, a matter of faith and a question of the practice of our religion.
It was a Mark 13:9 kind of experience of being called before the authorities, “before governors and kings,” because of Jesus, as a testimony to them. By the sound of Mark 13, Jesus expected this kind of thing to happen regularly to his followers. Mark 13 is a good text to remember when everybody around you is quoting Romans 13.
The Christian Peacemaker Teams organization is promoting symbolic war tax refusal as a way to make a clear witness in the matter of war taxes. Taxes for Life is a plan to have taxpayers redirect to education an amount equivalent to 1 penny for every billion dollars in the military budget. For tax year this is $3.03, which can be mailed to Christian Peacemaker Teams… Listen to your conscience when you pay your taxes. Write a letter of witness to the IRS, with copies to Congress and your local newspaper. Redirect some taxes to education through CPT.
If the IRS calls, tell them that it makes you a little bit nervous to break their law and that you do not enjoy being harassed by the collectors of blood money. Go on to say that you are far more apprehensive, however, about breaking God’s law. Tell them that you hear God’s warning rising up from the bulldozed mass graves of Iraqi conscripts, fathers and husbands, and the nightmares of their children. Explain that you are really afraid to harden you heart to the cry of the victims and that you have decided you will not take their blood upon your hands.
When Randy Kehler was thrown in prison on contempt of court charges for refusing to vacate the home that had been seized by the IRS, he prepared a statement that he hoped to read. The court denied him permission to address it. The Journal printed the statement he’d hoped to have made, which is a good thing: it would be a shame if such an articulate statement was left to sit unread in a file folder somewhere.
My refusal to give up our home is not an act of contempt or defiance of your court order. I regard it as an act of conscience and also an act of citizenship. The two go hand in hand. The first obligation of responsible citizenship, I believe, is obedience to one’s conscience. Obedience to one’s government and to its laws is very important, but it must come second. Otherwise there is no check on immoral actions by governments, which are bound to occur in any society whenever power is abused.
I want to assure you, however, that I am not someone who treats the law lightly. Even when a particular law seems at first to have no clear purpose or justification, I try to give it — that is, give those who created and approved it — the benefit of the doubt. In an ideal sense, I see law as the codification of those rules and procedures by which the members or citizens of a community, be it local or global, have agreed to live. A decent respect for one’s community requires a decent respect for its laws. At their best, such laws express the conscience of the community, causing conscience and law to coincide.
The international treaties and agreements that my wife, Betsy, and I cited in the legal documents recently submitted to, and rejected by, this court are wonderful examples of the coincidence of law and conscience. These agreements, each one signed by our government, include the United Nations Charter, which outlaws war and the use of military force as methods of resolving conflicts among nations; the Hague Regulations and Geneva Conventions, which prohibit the use or threatened use of weapons that indiscriminately kill civilians and poison the environment; and the Nuremberg Principles, which forbid individual citizens from participating in or collaborating with clearly defined “crimes against humanity,” “war crimes,” and “crimes against peace,” even when refusal to participate or collaborate means disobeying the laws of one’s government.
These international accords — which, as you know, our Constitution requires us to regard as “the Supreme Law of the Land” — are at least as much affirmation of conscience, rooted in universal moral standards, as they are statements of law. Betsy and I regret that you chose to deny our request for a trial, which would have allowed us to argue the relevance of these international laws before a jury of our peers.
Even in the absence of such laws, however, I believe that citizens would still have an affirmative obligation to follow their conscience and refuse to engage in or support immoral acts by governments. It is not true, as is commonly thought, that if large numbers of people put conscience ahead of the law and decided for themselves which acts of government were immoral, civilized society would break down into violence and chaos — that is, greater violence and chaos than there is now. In fact, the opposite would likely occur. There would likely be greater compliance with those laws that are fundamentally just and reasonable — in other words, most laws — and there would be greater public pressure to abolish or reform those laws (and policies) that are unjust or unreasonable.
There would be exceptions for the worse, of course. In the name of conscience, certain individuals would, no doubt, do some terrible things and cause much injury and death, which happens now. On balance, however, the historical record is clear: from the Spanish Inquisition and the African slave trade, to Stalin’s purges, Hitler’s Holocaust, the genocide of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, and our own devastation of Vietnam and Iraq, far more killing and suffering, has resulted from people following “legal” orders and obeying the law than from people refusing to do so in obedience to conscience.
My own refusal to kill (which led me to spend nearly two years in federal prison rather than cooperate with the Vietnam draft), Betsy’s and my refusal to pay federal taxes used for killing (which caused the IRS to seize our home), and now our refusal to turn over our home in lieu of taxes, are all acts of conscience. It has not been easy for us to deliberately violate the law in these instances, and in so doing incur the anxiety and disapproval of some of our friends and family, as well as the scorn and censure of many members of the community. We are painfully aware that even though we do pay our town and state taxes, and even though we have given away to the poor and to the victims of our war-making in other countries every cent that we have withheld from the federal government, nevertheless we are still regarded by some as irresponsible and not contributing our fair share.
These are times, however, when all of us are confronted with difficult choices. Betsy and I, and many others like us, feel we must choose between knowingly and willingly paying for war and killing, and openly and nonviolently breaking the law with respect to federal taxes. Our consciences compel us to choose the latter.
For me, the issue is larger than simply the taking of another human life, or even the instance of a particular war in which many lives are lost. I have increasingly come to see the larger issue as war itself. Whereas there has always been a moral imperative to end war and refrain from killing, today the imperative is much greater. Today the logic of peace, the logic of nonviolence, is also the logic of survival.
It is impossible to dis-invent today’s nuclear, chemical, biological, and so-called conventional weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, we have no alternative but to effectively abolish war. This is the one essential adaptation the human species must make — and, I firmly believe, can make — if life as we know it is to continue.
War today is the scourge of the planet. It is tragic enough that war is daily claiming the lives of people, maiming more, leaving orphans and widows, and destroying homes, schools, and hospitals — to say nothing of the irreplaceable treasures of human civilization destroyed in Baghdad last year and in Dubrovnik over the past several months. What makes war today even more tragic, more horrible, are the incalculable economic, social, and environmental costs that go along with it. Instead of using our human and material resources to produce food, medicine, housing, schools, and other desperately needed commodities, the world’s nations, led by our own, are annually spending trillions of dollars to purchase more and more weapons of even greater destructive capability. The hundreds of millions of children, women, and men whose lives are ravaged by poverty, hunger, and homelessness — around the world and here in the States — are as much victims of our addiction to war and militarism as are those who are hit directly by the bullets and bombs.
While the awful gap between the rich minority and the poor majority of the world’s people grows wider and wider, war’s assault on the earth — the earth that sustains us all — becomes more savage and less reversible with each new armed conflict. The severe and longterm ecological damage to the Persian Gulf region that resulted from only a few weeks of war last year is just the tip of the iceberg. The cumulative impact of the many smaller, less publicized wars elsewhere around the globe is no less severe and, ultimately, no less threatening to the well-being of people everywhere, including the United States. Furthermore, here at home, where ecological damage to our own environment is proceeding at a frightening pace, the single largest polluter by far, producing more toxic and radioactive waste than any other single entity, is the U.S. military.
I am not at all suggesting that our country bears sole responsibility for the global state of affairs. But we bear a good deal of it, and therefore any steps we take to move away from war will have great influence upon other countries around the world. Even before the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had the most powerful armed forces in the world, the most sophisticated weaponry, and by far the largest number of military bases outside our own borders. Since World War Ⅱ, we have used our military might to bomb, invade, or otherwise intervene in more countries around the world than any other nation. We were the first to develop the atomic bomb, and we are the only nation ever to use it. For years we have led the Soviets in atomic test explosions, and we ani continuing these tests even though Soviet testing has stopped. In addition, we have long been the world’s largest arms merchant, today supplying 40 percent of the entire overseas arms market.
We have been told that all of this is necessary for our security, but the opposite is true. This military colossus we have created has greatly undermined our security — by creating more enemies than it destroys, by wasting our precious resources and poisoning our environment, by degrading our democracy with “national security” secrecy, covert actions, and official lying, and by undercutting our highest Judeo-Christian values with the insidious doctrine of “might makes right.”
Betsy’s and my actions that have brought us to court are testament to our belief that there is another way for us to live in the world, and another way for us to resolve our conflicts with our fellow human beings. It is a way that is rooted in the best of our values: the values of generosity and justice, of human dignity and equality, of compassion and mutual respect. The seeds of this alternative way — the way of nonviolence that Dr. Martin Luther King tried to teach us — already exist within our society, and within each person. We have only to honor and nurture those seeds, individually and collectively. This is a prescription based not on wishful idealism, but on practical necessity. It is our only real hope for survival.
The transformation required cannot be accomplished without our accepting some measure of personal responsibility for the mess we are in. It would be futile to expect our government, or any other, to initiate it. In any event, we cannot afford to wait. The transformation must begin with us. Because we profess to be a self-governing people, it is all the more our responsibility.
We can exercise this responsibility by means of the choices each of us is called upon to make. For example, we can choose to speak out publicly against governmental practices and priorities that we know to be wrong. Many of us can also choose not to hand over to the federal government some part of our tax money — instead redistribute it to those in need, until such time as those in need become our government’s first priority. And each of us can choose to continue leading lives based on materialism, consumerism, and environmental exploitation, or we can find ways of living based on simplicity, sharing, and respect for the Earth. The choices we make as individuals will determine the choices we make as a nation.
This is, no doubt, a dangerous and ominous time to be alive in the world. Yet it is also a very exciting time to be alive. People all over the world, despite the opposition of their governments, are taking initiative to bring about momentous and long overdue changes. These winds of change are sweeping the planet, and they are not likely to stop at our borders.
If the people of Prague and Moscow can overthrow Soviet communism and bring about democracy and human rights; if the people of Soweto and Johannesburg can abolish South African apartheid and establish an egalitarian, multi-racial society; then, I feel sure, it is equally possible for us to dismantle U.S. militarism and replace it with attitudes and institutions of nonviolence.
It is my great hope, my silent prayer, that Betsy’s and my struggle to see that the fruits of our labor are used for nurturing and healing, rather than for killing and war, will somehow contribute to that process.
Following this, Christopher L. King had a piece promoting the Peace Tax Fund. He described it as the brainchild of David Bassett, who some twenty years before had come up with the idea of allowing taxpayers to perform “alternative service” money the way conscientiously objecting draftees could with their labor. King wrote that he was surprised to find little awareness of the bill in Quaker circles and described some of the work that he and his comrades were doing for the bill.
Those of us who meet each month and a quiet group of supporters in the surrounding communities believe in our consciences that war and militarism are wrong. We don’t believe they should be the major tools of our foreign policy. We sympathize with citizens like Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner of Colrain, Massachusetts, who have chosen to pay no taxes because they are pacifists.
We empathize with those brave souls who choose alternative lifestyles so they can keep their income below taxable levels. It often means their children must learn to sacrifice at an early age. It means stepping out of the mainstream culture.
Most of us don’t want to change our lifestyles radically or go to jail for our beliefs. Some might argue that if we are true to our faith, we have no other choice. On the other hand, there is a need to resist the fundamental tyranny that requires that we must become rebels if we wish to stand firmly for peace.
King’s article was pretty vague on the mechanics of what the Peace Tax Fund bill would actually accomplish, and it was written as if there were no reason why a conscientious objector to paying to war might not find it a satisfactory solution.
The issue included a brief review of the video Paying for Peace: War Tax Resistance in the United States, which was produced by Carol Coney. Excerpt:
Among those interviewed are Brian Willson, a war tax resister and Vietnam veteran who in was run over by a train while blocking munitions shipments at the Concord naval weapons plant in California. Also interviewed is Maurice McCrackin, a minister who was sentenced to jail for war tax resistance in ; Ernest and Marion Bromley, who have lived under the taxable income level to avoid paying taxes for military purposes; and Juanita Nelson, an early civil rights organizer who was the first woman to spend a night in jail for war tax resistance.
The issue included an op-ed from Allan Kohrman suggesting Quakers ought to be more patriotic, perhaps singing “God Bless America” during their Sunday meetings, and in particular should rethink their permissive attitude toward civil disobedience and war tax resistance. “Many Friends seem to define civil disobedience as breaking any law they feel is morally wrong. Some will not pay war taxes, testifying that God has called them to resist. I would argue that paying taxes is a basic responsibility of citizenship, a function of my almost mystical relationship to my country. God calls me to pay my taxes much as God calls others to resist them.” That’s what “an almost mystical relationship to my country” will get you, I guess.
Another note in that issue concerned two Quakers in Germany — Christa & Klausmart Voigt — who had been prosecuted for war tax resistance. “About 40 Friends from all over Germany attended the hearing, which was overseen by five judges.” Klausmart had “placed his money in an account for a peace tax initiative,” and at press time they were still awaiting the court’s decision.
There was another note about the Tax Resisters’ Penalty Fund in the issue, which described it this way: “When a request for assistance comes in, the committee that oversees the fund takes it under consideration, then notifies people who have agreed to participate of the amount each would need to contribute to cover the tax resister’s penalty and interest debt. Contributions are not used to cover the tax liability itself. The fund is administered in cooperation with the North Manchester (Ind.) Fellowship of Reconciliation.”