Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 1986–87

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

The issue of The Catholic Worker summarized the state of the art of war tax resistance at that time:

Resisting War Taxes:

On Telephones

The federal excise tax on telephone service has been associated with war spending throughout its history. It was first imposed by the War Tax Revenue Act of . Repealed in , the Act was then reimposed in . During World War Ⅱ, long distance calls were taxed 25%, local service 15%.

In , the tax was reduced to 10% on all phone service, and then further reduced in to 3%, with elimination planned for . Before this could happen though, the Vietnam War required that the revenue continue. With military spending continuing at a high level after the Vietnam War, the tax was still retained, and in raised from 1% to 3%. Currently, the federal government collects nearly two billion dollars a year through the telephone tax.

The tax is itemized on every phone bill (both for local service, and for all long distance companies). To refuse this tax, one can simply deduct the amount of the tax, and pay the balance. One should include a note each month explaining that one is not paying the tax in protest against military spending. If this is not done, the tax will continue to appear on future bills as balance due. “Telephone tax resistance" cards to enclose with your bill, explaining the protest, are available from several groups, and simplify the notification procedure.

No telephone company can legally disconnect one’s service for nonpayment of the excise tax. If it does, it can be fined by the Federal Communications Commission. A telephone company, once notified, should credit your account to eliminate the unpaid amount of the tax, and notify the IRS of your resistance. The IRS may then send a routine computer notice asking for tax payment, but this rarely happens, since the amounts are small. If the IRS takes action to collect the tax, many options are afforded the resister. A war tax resistance counselor can help explore these options, and their consequences.

For information, contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, P.O. Box 2236, East Patchogue, NY 11772, (516) 654‒8227.

On Income

The primary way the United States pays for its wars and war preparations is by taxing income. And, as long as there has been federal income tax, there has been resistance.

In , this meant resisting the payment of 63% of the income tax assessed, since that was the percentage of the federal budget devoted to military spending.

Various options are available, with different consequences following from each, for those wishing to resist these war taxes. If one wishes to file tax forms as usual, one can simply include payment for less than is assessed; a “military credit" can be taken on the 1040 form; or a “military deduction” can be taken on Schedule A for miscellaneous deductions, all leading either to the non-payment of a token amount, or the amount which would go to the military, or all income tax (since any portion of what is paid then goes to the military).

Others may elect to either file a blank 1040 return, or no return at all.

Finally, a number of people close the Catholic Worker throughout the years have decided to resist war taxes by living under the taxable income. While this is by no means easy these days, it has the benefit of incurring no penalty from the IRS, and of bringing one closer to the poor through the voluntary poverty which Peter Maurin and Dorothy Day long practiced and recommended.

Before attempting any form of federal tax resistance, one should become familiar with the various options available, and their consequences, including the different ways to avoid tax withholdings, which are a major impediment to resistance.

The War Resisters League, 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012, (212) 228‒0450, has just published a completely revised edition of its Guide to War Tax Resistance, which remains the best resource book available. It is $8, plus $1 for postage and handling.

The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, P.O. Box 2236, East Patchogue, NY 11772, (516) 654‒8227, has a variety of resources available, including a selection of booklets and a slide show on tax resistance, and can help make referrals to counselors and lawyers.

An article reflecting on direct action and on the Luddite movement, by Katharine Temple, in the issue of The Catholic Worker included this section on tax resistance:

Then there is tax resistance. This route may not seem as dramatic as smashing the looms that spell unemployment; still, it does strike, nonviolently, the life-line sustaining the corporate-military mechanism. (Certainly, the State takes it seriously. Consider the lengths they go to collect meager amounts from people who openly withhold money to protest military spending.) Refusing to pay the piper may be the most direct and non-confused way to say “No!” to the forces that enslave.

Ways to Resist

Most of us don’t stop to think how many ways tax resistance can be practiced. At one end of the spectrum is the public and outright refusal to pay, a stance that limits employment possibilities and risks heavy fines or jail. At the other end is the decision, equally fraught with hardship, to live below the taxable limit. In between, lie other, less extreme options, such as a partial withholding, working within a lower tax bracket, avoidance of the telephone tax collected for military debts, exchanges of labor without money transactions, rationing (or even giving up!) highly taxed goods, etc. Given that more than half the federal government budget goes to military expenses and hardware, every tax avoided through pure means is a moral and political statement of the highest order.

These decisions are not to be taken lightly, for the consequences can bear a heavy price. Any wise builder, we are told, will “first sit down and count the cost whether he has enough to complete it” (Luke 14:28). Presumably, it is not the best idea to act only in confused, midnight encounters nor to make costly gestures frivolously.

At the same time, if we dismiss tax refusal out of hand, just as when the Luddites have been dismissed, the concern is not always about violence, nor the cost, but the futility. Isn’t it all doomed to failure? The die is cast, so that neither demonstrations nor symbolic action nor direct refusals will make the slightest difference. This is what stops us from even the smallest actions. The assessment of failure, though, is always a later one, and we shouldn’t give in to historical determinism. “Our only criterion of judgment should not be whether a man’s actions are justified in the light of subsequent evolution.” (E.P. Thompson) Furthermore, as Christians, we must hold to belief in the economy of good, that no good action, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, is lost in God’s plan.

The issue of The Catholic Worker announced a war tax resister’s penalty fund:

Tax Resister’s Penalty Fund: A Little Help from Their Friends

By the time this issue of the paper reaches you, , may have come and gone, and so it may be too late to urge again income tax refusal. It is not too late, however, to take some other steps. For example, a project has been set up to provide financial and moral support for war tax resisters and to provide a way for those who are not yet able to take that path to support those who have. Basically, the Tax Resister’s Penalty Fund (TRPF) seeks to reimburse those who suffer financial loss when the IRS levies penalties and charges (over and above the original tax money demanded) against resisters. The TRPF is sponsored by the North Manchester Fellowship of Reconciliation, which evaluates each request for assistance and requires documentation showing that the penalty has already been collected by the IRS as a result of one’s refusal to pay military taxes. The fund was established in and, in , reimbursed nineteen war tax resisters for a total of $8,976.76. As the number of requests increases, it is important that the number of contributors keeps pace. You can help by joining, sending a donation of any amount, and also by spreading the word. War tax resisters are taking a brave stand, and they need a little help from their friends. For further information, please write to: TRPF, North Manchester Fellowship of Reconciliation, P.O. Box 25, North Manchester, IN 46962.