This week I’ve been taking a close look at the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, and I reached the conclusion that on the whole it’s a bad idea and that conscientious objectors to military taxation ought not to support it — indeed, it’s so flawed that they should oppose it.
But there’s a long history of cooperation between the American war tax resistance movement and the campaign for the peace tax fund. This is partially based, I think, on looking at legislative solutions of the peace tax fund variety through rose-colored glasses — exaggerating their possible benefits, and ignoring their likely downsides. But it may also be partially based on how the proposed peace tax legislation has changed over the years.
One early proposal for peace tax fund legislation in the United States, dating to the 1960s, would have allowed conscientious objectors to military taxation to pay their taxes directly to UNICEF instead of to the U.S. Treasury. Such a plan would not have many of the flaws I identified with the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act.
The version of the bill introduced as late as would have put the Peace Tax Fund under the jurisdiction of a fund-specific board of trustees, which would have the authority to spend it on things like “(1) retraining workers displaced by conversion from military production or activities; (2) research directed toward developing and evaluating nonmilitary and nonviolent solutions to international conflict; (3) disarmament efforts; (4) special projects of the United States Institute of Peace; (5) international exchanges for peaceful purposes; (6) improvement of international health, education, and welfare; and (7) programs for providing information to and education of the public concerning such activities” but not “to release funds for military expenditures which, were it not for the existence of the Fund, would otherwise have been appropriated for nonmilitary expenditures.”
, this was changed. Now the government could use the Peace Tax Fund money to pay for certain things which would otherwise have been appropriated out of the general fund: specifically “(1) Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC); (2) Head Start; (3) United States Institute of Peace; and (4) Peace Corps.”
At that point, the plan no longer had any defensible practical merit. The following year, the bill became the one we know today (and took on the new Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act name), and these spending restrictions were even further watered-down. The Peace Tax Fund could now be “allocated annually to any appropriation not for a military purpose” which, as we have seen, is no better in practical terms than saying “spend it on whatever you want, we don’t mind.”
In order to make the Peace Tax Fund legislation seem as harmless as possible to legislators who want to keep funding the war machine, the peace tax fund promoters have managed to design a bill that not only is no impediment to the war-funders, but is actually of no help to conscientious objectors.
It’s possible that the reason why the American war tax resistance movement remains closely aligned with the American peace tax fund campaign is that there was once a time when the peace tax fund legislation was not so hostile to and useless for war tax resisters. Over time, the legislation has changed, but many war tax resisters haven’t been paying close enough attention and they still think of it as something that could help them. They still think the legislation they support is the same basic plan that they or their forerunners supported ten, twenty, or thirty years ago.
Why am I bringing all of this up now? , NWTRCC is gathering in Eugene, Oregon. One of the items on our agenda is a proposal that NWTRCC formally “recommit to the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill and the efforts NCPTF is doing to get it passed in Congress.” I hope to discourage NWTRCC from endorsing the legislation, and to encourage it instead to find some way of maintaining ties with peace tax fund supporters without supporting their currently-misguided project.