American Brethren and War Taxes in 1975–76

In , promotion of the new “World Peace Tax Fund Act” legislation crowded out mention of honest-to-goodness war tax resistance in the Church of the Brethren’s Messenger magazine.

Church of the Brethren: Messenger

The issue profiled Grace and Harrold Lefevre, who had adopted a simple-living lifestyle (source). Excerpt:

Grace says that profit making is antithetical to their chosen life-style. The Lefevers do not support many of the government’s spending practices and the family’s desire to keep their living at a subsistence level has a concurrent advantage. Seldom have they had to pay income taxes, one yardstick by which they measure their own success as homesteaders.

The issue reviewed the work of the Church of the Brethren’s lobbying presence in Washington, D.C. (source), which included working with “a representative’s office in developing the World Peace Tax Fund Bill.” One of the “12 political action priorities” the lobbyist team was focusing on was “Providing a war tax alternative to conscientious objectors.”

But aside from those two articles, there was little in the Messenger in that touched on war tax resistance, and nothing at all in the other Brethren periodicals I reviewed. Perhaps this was just fatigue, after the issue had been talked out thoroughly in previous years. But I’ve noticed this suspicious correlation in my investigation of war tax resistance among Quakers and Mennonites, too, that as the chimera of “peace tax fund” legislation started to become prominent, actual war tax resistance became less so.

The first mention of war taxes I noticed in didn’t come until , and was a letter promoting the “World Peace Tax Fund” legislation (source).

Marcy Smith put in another plug for the bill in the issue, but this time at least mentioned war tax resistance in passing as another possible response to war taxes (source). Excerpt:

[A] question arises for followers of Jesus, persons opposed to repression and militarism, persons hoping for a better world free from war — in good conscience, can these people financially support war?

Search for alternatives. There are several alternatives. Some people pay their taxes but include a letter stating their opposition to war; some pay only part of their taxes, omitting the approximate percentage that goes to the military; others refuse to pay any income tax. Members of this latter group face loss of property (sold to reimburse the government for nonpayment of taxes) and even imprisonment.

In 1972, “The World Peace Tax Fund Act” was introduced into Congress. The purpose of this legislation is to allow persons who are conscientiously opposed to war to channel their tax monies into a trust fund. The trust fund would be used to support peace research and education, non-violent conflict resolution, and non-militaristic programs.

Diverting payment. How would it work? If passed by Congress, the World Peace Tax Fund Act would allow persons filing income tax forms to indicate that they are conscientiously opposed to war and do not want their monies supporting the military. That portion of the tax payment which would normally be used for military spending would be diverted into the trust fund. Technically, the World Peace Tax Fund will cover only the percentage being used for current military operations (at this time, approximately 38 percent).

The trust fund is to have a Board of Trustees, appointed by the President of the United States. The Trustees would be “men and women who have demonstrated a sincere and determined commitment to world peace and international friendship and who have experience with the resolution of international conflict by peaceful means.” These people will decide what percentage of the annual budget has been allocated to military spending, therefore, what percentage goes into the trust fund, and for what alternative program(s) this money will be used.

Questions are raised by consideration of the World Peace Tax Fund Act. One which is frequently asked is, “Won’t people who are opposed to welfare, abortion, and other controversial issues want to have special provisions made for them so that their money will not support those programs?” In response, supporters of the Peace Tax answer that non-cooperation and opposition to war is a well-established conviction of many religions, Christian and non-Christian. Because it is a sincere, long-held belief, the refusal to support war, whether in person or with money, must be recognized.

Precedent. A precedent for the World Peace Tax Fund is the Conscientious Objector (CO) provision in the Selective Service System. Just as young men facing the draft could choose alternative service, so could taxpayers elect an alternative use for their money. Like the CO option, however, the Peace Tax raises moral questions.

The World Peace Tax Fund will offer an opportunity for individuals to withhold their money from the military coffers. However, while it is a chance for individual expression, the World Peace Tax Fund will not directly change United States’ military or foreign policy. Just as opting for CO status did not end the draft, the World Peace Tax Fund will not bring the end of the military.

Passage of the World Peace Tax Fund Act will not relieve individuals of the need to speak out against wasteful military spending. It will provide legal, alternative funding for peace-related programs and it will let members of the United States Congress know that a significant proportion of Americans are concerned about their monies being spent on the military.

The issue reported on a reunion of World War Ⅰ-era conscientious objectors (source). Notice anything missing here?:

Speakers reminded the gathering of conscientious objectors that their fathers took a sharp distinct stand for peace and challenged the sons to find something as effective in their day. Suggestions for present-day peace witnessing were: work against Junior ROTC in public schools, visit Washington to give testimony for peace, and support the World Peace Tax Fund.