Nuclear Protester May Lose Home Over Tax Stand
Colrain, Mass., — Three years before he founded the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign in St. Louis in , Randy Kehler started protesting the Government’s military budget by not paying his Federal income taxes.
the Internal Revenue Service seized Mr. Kehler’s modest house, tucked in a valley among apple orchards and farms, and told him it would be sold unless he paid $20,000 in back taxes plus $7,000 in interest.
Mr. Kehler, a lobbyist, and his wife, Betsy Corner, say they will neither pay money to the Government nor move out of their house if they are ordered to be evicted. They have urged members of their community not to bid on their house. So far, nobody has.
A spokesman for the revenue service, Frank Keith, said it had not kept statistics on tax protesters since , when there were 21,300. Tax resistance groups estimate that year, 10,000 to 20,000 Americans will not pay income taxes or will pay less than what they owe to protest military spending.
Tax Money to Charities
Mr. Kehler and Ms. Corner pay state and local taxes each year. They figure out how much they owe the Federal Government and send a Form 1040 to the I.R.S., but the money involved is sent to charities.
“I spent years trying to stop nuclear weapons through legal channels, through legislation and education, but not one single production line has been shut down,” said Mr. Kehler, adding that he was more than willing to sacrifice his home for the sake of his conscience.
The I.R.S., imposes stiff criminal and civil penalties against people and organizations that do not file tax returns or do not pay in full. People who do not pay for reasons of conscience are treated no differently from other evaders. The deadline for filing a Federal income tax return this year is .
The Tax Resistance Movement
Tax resistance organizations say their numbers have been rising gradually, especially among people who choose to deduct a token amount from what they legally owe. Some boycott the Federal excise tax on telephone service, the revenue of which has been used to help finance the military.
Like Mr. Kehler and Ms. Corner, many other tax resisters shape their lives around a decision not to pay taxes. They remain self-employed; employers could withhold the hated taxes from their pay. Most do not have bank accounts or other assets that could be seized. Some deliberately keep their income below taxable levels: $4,950 for a single person, $8,900 for a married couple under the age of 65.
Last week, a Federal district judge in Philadelphia heard arguments in a suit filed by the Internal Revenue Service against a Quaker church that the Government has charged with refusing to withhold over $11,000 in taxes from employees who object to paying them.
How Some Penalties Worked Out
Prosecution of tax resisters does not appear uniform. Bob Bady, a next-door neighbor of Mr. Kehler and Ms. Corner, said he had not filed a return since and had not been penalized. Rabbi Michael A. Robinson of Temple Israel in Croton, N.Y., began paying only 70 percent of his taxes to protest the Vietnam War, and the revenue service seized his bank account and began a six-year audit that ended in . “In the end, they got more money than they would if I had paid my tax, because of the interest on it,” he said.
Americans have been protesting the use of tax money for military purposes since before the Federal income tax was created in by the 16th Amendment. Thoreau refused to pay taxes levied for the Mexican War of and encouraged other citizens to do the same. He spent a night in jail.
The story of how Kehler & Corner lost and then regained their house, and how a community of supporters used the seizure as an educational opportunity, is told in the film An Act of Conscience. Bob Bady is still resisting taxes, now from Vermont.
Michael Robinson had the honor of having been arrested alongside Martin Luther King in . His home was a way station for conscientious objectors fleeing for Canada during the Vietnam War. He moved to California in and was active in the peace movement there; he died in .