War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1994

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

American Quaker war tax resistance reemerged in the Friends Journal in , with some real live resisters telling their stories and sharing the processes by which they had developed their methods of resistance.

The issue had several mentions of war tax resistance. Editor Vinton Deming’s lead editorial concerned his annual confrontation of the “agonizing question” of what to do at tax-filing time. Excerpt:

For many years I sought ways to protest. I started by submitting a letter with my 1040 objecting to the large sums going to the Pentagon and the neglect of other needed programs. No one responded. At other times I requested a refund so I might send a sum to a human service program not being adequately funded. Nice idea, I thought, but IRS didn’t think so. One year they told me the request was “frivolous,” and they tried to penalize me for asking. My lawyer got them to drop the matter. Then about 15 years ago I stopped filing a tax return altogether, choosing instead to write a letter to the president explaining why I was not willing as a Friend to pay for things like B-1 bombers, cruise missiles, or Star Wars.

The latter approach clearly got the attention of IRS officials. Suddenly I was “playing in the big leagues.” The government took me to court on two occasions and threatened to do the same to my present employer unless my back taxes, interest, and penalties were paid at once [see ♇ ]. Reluctantly, and after much soul searching, the Journal agreed to pay. I released them to do so, being convinced we had resisted as long as we could and had explored all legal means. Friends rallied to support us with financial gifts to help pay the large debt. In I made my last monthly payment to the Journal.

I continue to struggle with IRS on this matter, which dates back to my tax resistance of . The government disagreed with our math for what we believed was actually owed in back taxes. My lawyer is maneuvering to try to prevent IRS from seizing my Individual Retirement Account, an argument to be decided by a judge later this year.

In more recent tax years I have filed and paid, trying to claim as many exemptions as possible and to limit the government’s take. I have lobbied for the Peace Tax Fund Bill and supported others who are resisting.

David Shen also wrote of his war tax resistance in that issue. Excerpts:

For 12 years, I have withheld a portion of my income tax from IRS. I refuse to give money to the military to kill people. There is too much need around us. For the last three years, I have given this portion to My Brothers’ House, a homeless shelter my Quaker meeting supports in the inner city of Philadelphia. Each year at tax time, I sigh deeply. I know IRS may punish me. And I know I stand on the side of life.

For these 12 years, IRS and I have been corresponding politely. They send me notices; I write back. Since I received notices of intent to levy and since they have not levied, I assume I have been lost in their millions of files. I was surprised, then, when my college employer received the levy on my salary.

My first talks with IRS, lawyers, and F/friends left me feeling depressed and helpless. IRS would get what they thought was theirs.

Then God intervened. Inadvertently, my lawyer angered me. In my anger, I took a position of reducing my wages to a level IRS could not levy. (By law IRS must leave me a wage to live on.) I had not considered it before, since doing so would cost me $2,200 — more than the levy’s $1,200.

I think Shen is being too modest here in giving God the credit for a bold decision that came direct from Shen.

I approached the college dean, my superior. “Reduce my wages,” I said, “so IRS cannot satisfy its levy.” But the dean shocked me. Her superior, the vice president, would not allow me to reduce my wages. I had to quit or pay the levy.

That sounds very familiar. When I first started resisting, I went in to the human resources department of my employer to ask if reducing my salary below the tax line was an option. They told me it was out of the question. My response was to resign and become an independent contractor. Shen took a different tack:

After a conversation with one of my students, I decided to continue teaching and pay the levy. I would, however, also continue learning about love and Truth. Could I reach administrators, I wondered, if I used Gandhi’s principle of selfsuffering? I would direct suffering to me, and not to the college, by teaching at reduced income rather than quitting and leaving the college with 80 angry students.

I met with the administrator who wrote my paycheck, the department chair, the dean again, and then the vice-president. Three respected my position (the vicepresident didn’t reveal his stand). The payroll administrator blurted out, “Isn’t there a legal way you can do this (pay income tax without paying the military)?”

When I met with the president of the college, six weeks had passed and the levy was almost fully paid. He was busy. He startled me by agreeing with my right to take my position, and he would seek how I could do so at the college. Two weeks later, he informed me he could not find a legal way to accommodate me.

I, though, was thrilled. In our two conversations, the president and I connected. We talked about my tax situation for 20 minutes and unexpectedly talked about his and my family for 90 minutes. He was late for one of his appointments. As I waved goodbye, he asked, “Stop in for coffee again, will you?”

What did I learn? I am poorer by $1,200, but I am richer in intangible ways. I feel in the flow of God’s will for me and feel connected to people — F/friends who support me and opponents who respect me. I am invigorated and happy

It must be comforting to feel that “God’s will” is responsible for all the difficult and fuzzy decisions you make. Whether you zig or you zag, whether things turn out well or ill, God’s in charge and if you’re willing to give Him all the credit, He’ll be glad to take all the blame.

The same issue published part of an interview that Susan Van Haitsma conducted with Paula Rogge . Excerpts:

What were the motivating factors in your decision to become a tax resister?
Deciding to refuse to pay taxes for war was a slow, gradual process for me… As I grew older and attended Illinois Yearly Meeting, I heard more about tax resistance. I met two men who had served time in prison for refusing to pay war taxes or resisting cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service. I saw them as very committed people with a lot of integrity, and I could see that the yearly meeting supported them. So, at some level I felt that tax resistance was the logical extension of my pacifist views, and I knew there was a community of support for tax resistance among the Friends and the wider peace community as well.…
How did you go about your tax resistance?
That first year, I think I owed one dollar. I refused to pay the dollar and sent a letter to the IRS explaining my position. The next year, I increased the number of withholding allowances on my W-4 form so that I owed the IRS at the end of the year instead of vice-versa. I began by refusing to pay 40–50 percent of my federal tax money because at the time, that was the approximate percentage being used to fund current and past wars. Then, over time, I realized that of the 50–60 percent I was paying, 40–50 percent was still being used for military purposes, so I stopped paying the whole kit and caboodle. I stopped paying all taxes because I had no control whatsoever over how the money was being spent. In the last several years I’ve also stopped paying social security taxes because the government borrows from those funds to help cover the deficit, indirectly financing the defense system. So, it’s been a gradual process of taking my tax resistance further and further. I’ve always filed, and the IRS and I have always agreed about how much I’ve owed (now over $60,000 including penalties and interest). At this point, I don’t feel led to stop filing. For myself, I feel better being open about it, but I realize many tax resisters don’t file, and I respect their reasons for going that route.
Have you redirected your tax money?
The first couple of years that I did tax resistance, I put the money aside in a bank account, assuming it would be seized. It wasn’t seized right away, however, and I’m afraid the money was spent without having been donated as it should have. But I learned, and since then I’ve made sure the amount of money owed in taxes and social security is donated every year to charitable groups. I’ve had a lot of fun giving this money away. Sometimes when I have sent the contribution, I have included a note explaining that the donation represents refused war taxes, and I have received supportive notes in return. It’s a very empowering feeling to know that my money is doing some good.
Have there been special ways in which you would say your life has been affected positively by your practice of tax resistance?
When I finished my residency, I worked in a migrant clinic for two years in the Rio Grande Valley in Harlingen, Texas: a very conservative community. The second year I was there, I wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper explaining that I was a war tax resister and why. The newspaper editor phoned me to make sure I really wanted the letter printed! I said yes, and they did print it. I was afraid of the response I might get from the community, but I felt it was important to be public about my stance. After the letter was printed, the other doctors in Harlingen actually became much friendlier and began to take a certain interest in me. I don’t think any of them agreed with the tax resistance, but they seemed to respect my position. Several nurses and a nuclear medicine technician I hadn’t known before introduced themselves and expressed their support of my war tax resistance. I didn’t get any negative reactions. In , I began a medical family practice in Austin, Texas, along with another doctor. The first year into the practice, the IRS sent notice that my wages would be garnisheed. I asked that my salary be lowered to $100 per week, as that is the amount exempt from levy. In order to supplement this reduced income, I began to work moonlighting jobs in various agencies: the city Health Department, Planned Parenthood, and the State Commission for the Blind, for example. I had to find new moonlighting jobs every two years or so because that was about the length of time it usually took the IRS to catch up and begin attaching wages again. Something good happened as a result of this. I’ve had to explain to all potential employers that at some point the IRS would begin to levy my wages and when that happened, I would no longer be able to work for them. When I explained this to the Texas Commission for the Blind during my interview, for example, they were quite taken aback, and I thought I probably wouldn’t get the job. But, a few weeks later, they did hire me! The woman who hired me said she understood why I was doing tax resistance and that she agreed with my convictions. I came to feel a real sense of support and community there.
In , the IRS seized your automobile. Could you describe what happened?
Well, some time before the car was seized, an IRS agent, accompanied by a law officer, came to our clinic to pay me a visit. I could tell they were nervous and even a bit hostile. But as we sat and talked, and I explained why I simply could not pay for war, I could see them both soften a little. Toward the end of the interview, the officer began asking questions about our practice and commented that it was unusual for us to be located in such a poor neighborhood. As they were leaving, I complemented the officer on his cowboy boots — he had on some kind of exotic boots — and I think he was tickled pink that I had noticed them. He told me where he had gotten them. It was kind of a humorous exchange and I felt very good about that. We had related as people. I figured that since my wages had become uncollectible and I had no bank account, eventually my car would be seized. But even so, the morning it happened, it came as a bit of a shock. My IRS agent came to the bouse and, poor woman, she was just shivering in her shoes, she looked so nervous. She placed a sticker on the car and then asked if she could use my phone to call the tow truck! I decided that they were going to tow it one way or another, so I invited her in to use the phone. I had a sick patient in the emergency room at the time, so I took a taxi to the hospital right away. Having a patient to worry about took my mind off the car long enough to ease my worry about the situation. Then friends came forward and loaned me their cars without my having to ask. A month following the seizure, the car was auctioned. About 20–30 Quakers and other friends came and protested the auction, asking potential buyers not to bid on the car. At least one potential buyer was convinced to refrain from bidding, but a used car dealer did, in the end, buy the car. A week following the auction, a doctor I had once worked with phoned and said that he wanted to buy the car back from the car dealer and donate it anonymously to our practice. That was such a wonderful surprise. I was very moved because I respected him very much as a doctor. I talked the offer over with friends. Though I didn’t want the money going, even indirectly, to the IRS, I did want this doctor to have an opportunity to support the whole cause of war tax resistance, and this was his way of contributing. I decided to accept the car. It came back with new tires, looking much cleaner than it had before it was seized! A friend of the doctor had also done a tune-up on it — and it was great. I think the best part of this story is that when I tell it, people chuckle. You see, it’s such a good example of how limited the power of the IRS is in the face of creative resistance. It’s also an example of how our needs are often met in unexpected ways when we take a stand for peace. I think these three experiences in particular — the return of my car, receiving the job at the Commission for the Blind, and the reaction to the letter in Harlingen paper — were all occasions when I felt that speaking out for truth actually opened doors and tore down barriers between other people and me. When I was willing to take a stand for what I felt was right, I discovered a community of support I hadn’t realized existed.

Perry Treadwell also wrote about his war tax resistance in that issue. Excerpts:

Today I received another one of those white envelopes from the Internal Revenue Service — the ones that tell me I failed to pay $35 in or $106 in and now I owe a lot more in penalties and interest. I file them away with the other ones from .

But this time their arrival reminded me of an anniversary of sorts. It has been . I refused to pay for people to kill other people.

I resigned my tenured university position [see ♇ ] and drastically simplified my lifestyle so the fruits of my labors would not be used for war.

I still get that little twist in the stomach when those IRS letters come. Sometimes the IRS actually raids a bank account or Individual Retirement Account. However, I know that Friends are there should I ever need their support in not cooperating with a government whose only answer to conflict is violence. I have been able to simplify my life to a point where I am below the taxable level. Friends’ support has helped.

The richness of my life is proportional to my friendships. That is what I have learned in , and that is what I pass on to others.

The issue had an obituary notice for Jane Palmer which noted that she “chose to live in accordance with the Quaker peace testimony and purposefully limited her income to avoid paying taxes that supported war efforts,” and one for Mildred Teusler Ringwalt which mentioned “her refusal to pay the portion of her income taxes she believed supported such [war] efforts.”

One of the events at the Friends General Conference Gathering in  — the “Henry J. Cadbury Event, sponsored by Friends Journal” — was “an original production in story and song about the war tax witness of Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner from Colrain, Massachusetts. The stage performance won a favorable review from those who crowded the auditorium (despite the heat and lack of air conditioning!). A video of the show was made and will be available at a later date.”

“A Matter of Conscience,” 1995’s Henry J. Cadbury Event at the Friends General Conference

At the Illinois Yearly Meeting in (according to a Journal article ), “Sebrina Tingley explained not just the nuts and bolts of war tax resistance but also the spiritual call to do so” and “Bill Ramsey (American Friends Service Committee) told of his personal experiences involving war tax resistance.”

The lead editorial of the issue was all about the Peace Tax Fund Bill and an effort to get 10,000 people to write letters to Congress supporting it. “The Peace Tax Fund Bill,” according to one supporter’s letter, “when it becomes law, will give us our religious liberty. We’ll be able to pay our taxes in good conscience since we’ll be allowed to pay for peaceful projects rather than for war.”

Two letters-to-the-editor in the issue reacted to that project: one, by Marge Schier, thanking the Journal for aiding the cause — “We’re even more sure now that we can do it!” — and the other, by Elizabeth Campuzano, giving the gist of the letter she had sent: “I told them that I voluntarily live below the federal poverty limit in order to avoid paying income taxes for war. I told them that if this bill passes, I will raise my income in order to pay for education, road and bridge repairs, anti-monopoly enforcement, etc.” She added: “I think this is one of the greatest things FJ has ever done!”

International news

A report about the previous year’s Canadian Yearly Meeting in the issue mentioned that “[t]he ad hoc committee on war tax concerns has found a method which potentially will allow Canadian Yearly Meeting to redirect the military portion of employees’ income tax remittances to the federal government’s Debt Service and Reduction Fund. This is not an entirely satisfactory solution, but perhaps a first step.”

’s Canadian Yearly Meeting (according to a story in the issue) “reached joyful unity in a decision as an employer to stop remitting to Revenue Canada the military portion of taxes for those employees who request it.”

This decision follows several years of study, prayerful consideration, and the attempt during for use of legal means of expressing our conscientious objection to paying for the military. The remittance will instead be paid into Conscience Canada, with consideration given to establishing in the future a specific trust fund.

The Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns was held in Spain in and was covered in the Journal in a report by Steve Gulick. Excerpt:

About 70 activists from all over Europe and a number of other parts of the world gathered in Hondarribia, Spain, , to charge our batteries, to compare conditions in our various countries, to get to know each other, and to carry on business. It was inspiring to meet, get to know, and work with war tax resisters and peace campaigners from all over Europe and from the United States, Canada, Peru, Iraq, and Palestine. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee raised money to make it possible for the Palestinian, Elias Rishmawi from Beit Sahour, West Bank, to attend. The Iraqi and the Peruvian attenders are currently living in Europe. One problem with the gathering — similar to the War Resisters International gathering that I attended in  — was the difficulty of getting a diverse attendance. Folks from India were unable to attend, for example, in part because of the distance.

I attended as a delegate from the War Tax Concerns Support Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Other attenders from the United States were David Bassett and Marian Franz (National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund), Susan Quinlan and Larry Rosenwald (National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee), Cynthia Johnson (Women Strike for Peace), and Gerri Michalska (Pax Christi) — which gave some of us from the U.S. movement the opportunity to get to know each other.

The conference issued a number of public documents — the most important being the bylaw of a new non-governmental organization which will have consultative powers with both the UN and the European parliament: Conscience and Peace Tax International. The role/goal of the organization will be to espouse the cause of those who take stands of conscience in relation to military expenditures — and also military service and issues of conscience and civil and human rights more generally.

A report back from the Germany Yearly Meeting mentioned war tax resistance matter-of-factly:

In our commitments to projects such as “alternatives to violence,” civilian peace service, war tax refusal, and in our decision to give financial support to the setting up of a Quaker Center in Moscow, Russia, we express that we not only ask ourselves “how do we see God?” but also “how do we do God?”…