“Peace Tax Fund” Plan Has Gotten Worse Over Time

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.

There has been some discussion of my series on the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act going on at the wtr-s email discussion list:

“It has always seemed to me that the good thing about this is that it may allow some WTRs to stop their resistance, however, I suspect that many will continue.” — Martin Bates
Which just goes to show that what to me seems like a bug, to some people seems like a feature.
“It has bothered me that this really doesn’t have any affect on the military budget, and I rejoice that people could then finally vote with their tax dollars. I suspect that a better move would be for the Department of Peace, and the study and practice of nonviolence so eventually the weapons would be obsolete. I suspect we wouldn’t mind paying if we knew there was a department of the army that looked like CPT and there were several layers of nonviolent response to conflict before a weapon were ever considered.” — Martin Bates
“The Peace Tax Fund can be looked at as simply a tool — one that I hope very much that we bring into reality. The Dept. of Peace is another tool. The choice is not an either/or; in my opinion, both of these tools compliment each other. Neither is perfect, both will require vigilance on our part to ensure that they do what we want them to, and as well as we want. I have no doubt that there are other equally important tools ‘out there’ that we need to bring into being.” — Pam Allee
It’s a tool, but it’s important to ask: is it the right tool for the job? Will it even do the job? What else will it do?
“Our group gives workshops every month (except December) and speaks on different occasions about wtr. What we hear the most often from people is fear. The Peace Tax Fund would remove that fear. Many (if not most) current wtr’s would [not] switch to the PTF — but, if we did our job, we would relatively quickly have a real number to use as a lever against our representatives in Congress — something we do not have now.” — Pam Allee
If the price for making conscientious objection to military taxation feel “safe” is to make it counterproductive, is that price worth paying?
“The argument that I’ve heard that most sways me toward supporting PTF legislation is that it would basically establish CO status for taxpayers. This would be such an important precedent to be set, that conscientious objection to paying for war be acknowledged and accommodated by law. Even if the mechanism isn’t to everyone’s satisfaction, getting that toe-hold is an important, vital step toward what we want — it helps move us in that direction.” — Tana Hastings
This seems very speculative to me. I’m reluctant to ask Congress to let us take one step backwards in the hopes that this will encourage them to let us take two steps forwards some time in the future. What do you base this confidence on? How do you distinguish it from mere wishful thinking?
“Even if all wtrs didn’t avail themselves of the fund, wouldn’t/shouldn’t that precedent give greater legal defense/grounds for refusing to pay?” — Tana Hastings
I worry that just the opposite would happen. Rather than being a precedent that war tax resisters could use to their advantage, it would be a cudgel the government could use against war tax resisters: “We gave you the ‘Peace Tax Fund’ you wanted — now you’ve got no more excuses not to pay up.”
“I don’t resist federal tax collection for religious reasons. I agree with Marx and Joe Hill that religions are opiates that keep us down and inactive.” — Doug Mackenzie
There is something a little grating about calling the proposed legislation the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, at least to those of us whose conscientious objection isn’t religiously-motivated. But this is just marketing, for the most part, hoping to capitalize on Congress’s occasional whim to stand up for religious-based conscientious objection (for instance in ’s “Religious Freedom Restoration Act”). The actual legislation applies to religious and non-religious objectors equally.