Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1994

This is the thirty-ninth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we hit 1994.

The Mennonite

War tax resistance mentions have slowed to a trickle. It’s hard to be certain whether this reflects a waning of interest in Mennonite circles generally, or just a change in editorial focus, but in any case the contrast is stark between the passion and the quantity of discussion about war tax resistance just and as we hit .

Almost all of the war tax resistance material was crammed into a single tax day issue that year.

The edition included a lengthy meditation on civil disobedience by Arthur P. Boers. It gave a couple of passing nods to war tax resistance.

The same issue profiled a handful of war tax resisters:

Refusing to Pay for War

Four Mennonites follow their consciences by telling the Canadian and U.S. governments they cannot pay for war with their taxes.

Larry Penner

When the Persian Gulf War broke out in , Ed Olfert protested. “I needed to have a little bit of voice to say that this is stupid and has to end,” he says. “This is my tax money at work, killing women and children.”

Ed had considered tax resistance before. He decided to withhold about 9 percent of his tax payment, a percentage that Conscience Canada, a tax resisters’ group, suggests to represent the amount of taxes that goes to the military.

Along with withholding, Ed sent letters to government and Revenue Canada officials voicing his protest. But in the end the effort brought mostly frustration.

As a self-employed farmer, the amount he withheld was minimal, under $100. When Revenue Canada officials contacted him, they didn’t know about his protest. “I wondered if the letters I sent even arrived,” Ed says.

At his church, Su­perb Men­non­ite Church in Ker­ro­bert, Sask., Ed found lit­tle sym­pa­thy. “There was a fear of what I was do­ing,” he says. “There was a draw­ing away, as if peo­ple won­dered, ‘Is this what the Men­non­ite church is mov­ing toward, that we all have to do this?’ ”

Ac­tu­ally, Men­non­ite tax re­sist­ers are few and scat­tered. More sup­port leg­is­la­tive change that would al­low peo­ple of con­science to des­ig­nate their tax dol­lars for non­mil­i­tary ends. Such leg­is­la­tion has been pro­posed in both Canada and the United States.

Those who do resist paying taxes find the need to resist more imperative as technology moves warfare farther from conscription and closer to the pocketbook. While the draft in the United States has remained inactive , 28 percent of the federal budget went to current military efforts and another 18.7 percent to payments on past military efforts, according to the Friends Committee on National Legislation. And although Canada has not conscripted its citizens since World War Ⅱ, Conscience Canada reports that $12 billion, or 7.5 percent of the federal budget, went to military spending in . The Persian Gulf War proved that with modern technology, full-scale war can be fought without conscription, but not without dollars.

Hypocritical: For re­sist­er Menno Klas­sen of Win­ni­peg, re­sist­ing war­fare through his taxes has be­come more im­per­a­tive as he has grown older. Ex­cused from war as a con­sci­en­tious ob­ject­or to World War Ⅱ, Menno says it would be hyp­o­crit­i­cal now to pay to send some­one in his place. “Our con­sti­tu­tion guar­an­tees free­dom of con­science, but if we’re not al­lowed to ex­er­cise our con­science, it doesn’t mean much,” he says.

Like Ed, Menno has re­ceived mixed re­ac­tions from his con­gre­ga­tion, Fort Garry Mennonite Fellowship in Winnipeg. “I must admit I don’t receive much support from the church, even though my church is one of the more tolerant in Winnipeg,” he says. “People [in the church] are busy with family and inward looking. It’s a family affair.”

In Ontario, Jane Pritchard has found some support. Like Ed, her conscience condemned the Gulf War, “the first war fought by my country since I became politically aware.”

A physician, Jane faced a higher tax pay­ment. She with­held just over $1,000. For her the act was a lib­er­a­tion. “Once I’d done it I didn’t see how I could con­vince my­self to pay be­fore.” Jane has found sup­port for her de­ci­sion in her Bible study group at Toronto United Men­non­ite Church.

When Revenue Cana­da called Jane in, she ex­pect­ed the worst. She was not dis­ap­point­ed. She was shown into a stark room with no­thing but two chairs, a desk, a light and a com­pu­ter ter­mi­nal. “It was like some­thing out of [the book] 1984,” she says. The Revenue Canada representative kept saying she owed this portion of her taxes. He didn’t ask why she didn’t pay but said Revenue Canada had to do something. He did not say what.

Sympathy: At some point partway through the interview, Jane realized her interviewer was more nervous than she was. When he did not respond to her questions of what Revenue Canada would do, she suggested possibilities. “Garnishee my wages?” He nodded yes. “From where?” He did not know. “Raid my bank account?” Again he nodded. She left feeling sympathy for her inquisitor, a sympathetic young man caught in a system.

Don Kaufman of Newton, Kan., knows that many Internal Revenue Service officers are sympathetic people caught in a system. He has resisted military tax for 36 years. He recalls one IRS representative who said he hoped the government would make it possible for tax resisters to resist without breaking the law.

Partly because IRS of­fi­cials are bound by reg­u­la­tions, Don’s pro­test has shift­ed its em­pha­sis over the years. “In­it­ial­ly I wrote more to the IRS, now I write more to Con­gress. The IRS is just car­ry­ing out Con­gress’ or­ders,” Don says. “If there were a pro­vi­sion for con­science in giv­ing money for war as there is in giv­ing body to war, tax re­sist­ers wouldn’t have to feel guilty for fol­low­ing their con­science.”

In his many years of re­sist­ance, Don has seen in­ter­est in tax re­sist­ance wax and wane. But, he says, it has never died out. The history of war tax resistance in North America dates to the first settlers from Europe, many of whom left their home country in part to avoid paying taxes for war. But when the personal income tax was introduced in both the United States and Canada, funds raised went to pay for war.

Don believes a change will come. “It may be like women’s suffrage, it may take 60 to 80 years before there is a change, but if people keep working and don’t give up too easily, there will be a change,” he says.

Until the law changes, Don will continue to resist. “It’s enough of a threat to who I am as a person that I don’t want to give it up. If I quit, I become schizophrenic at that point — I’m not being honest with who I am. I want my life to be integrated.”

A sidebar concerned two other Mennonite tax resisters:

Waiting for the tax collector

Pat and Earl Hostetter Martin have been resisting taxes since they returned from Mennonite Central Committee work in Vietnam in . As students in Palo Alto, Calif., they began by withholding 10 percent of their telephone tax, a sum that totaled about $10 after three years.

For this, Internal Revenue Service representatives drove down from San Francisco twice and questioned their landlord while Pat and Earl were at work. Then they received a notice threatening a lien on their property and ordering an appearance at the IRS office. But before the appearance, the IRS found the Martins’ bank account and took the money.

In the Martins went to Akron, Pa., to serve as co-sec­re­tar­ies for East Asia for MCC. They with­held about 30 per­cent of their taxes, a fig­ure rep­re­sent­ing the amount of tax money go­ing for cur­rent mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­tures. “Af­ter be­ing in Vi­et­nam and hav­ing seen a lot of friends who had suf­fered be­cause of U.S. weap­ons, we de­ci­ded we couldn’t pay,” Pat says.

The couple has re­sist­ed pay­ing taxes ever since.

At first the IRS froze their per­son­al check­ing ac­count for a couple of weeks to col­lect. Pat called it an odd bles­sing. “You get caught with checks out and you have to go back to stores and explain. But that also gave us an opportunity to explain why we are tax resisters.”

the couple began moving its bank account frequently to keep the IRS from finding the money. They now owe between $2,000 and $3,000.

When the IRS tried to garnishee the couple’s wages at MCC, MCC’s response was to ask the IRS to reconsider, to try to find the money some other way.

MCC, like most Mennonite organizations, does withhold income tax from employees’ paychecks for the government. The General Conference Mennonite Church is the only major Mennonite organization that will grant employees’ requests to not have federal taxes withheld from their paychecks so that employees may resist taxes.

Last year the Martins were in Vietnam . While they were gone the IRS attached a lien to all their property: house, car, real estate. Anything they own could now be sold to pay the debt.

The couple is part of a Lancaster group of resisters called “Taxes for Life.” The group meets monthly to support each other. “Anyone who chooses tax resistance should have a support group because it can be scary,” says Pat. “We agree to stand behind each other and keep ourselves honest to our conscience.”

That issue’s editorial, by Robert Hull, read in part:

In recent years I have joined with Don Kaufman and 20 others in the Newton, Kan., area to form a support group concerned with the military use of our taxes. Our refused tax dollars and contributions build up a “Heartland Peace Tax Fund,” which in granted $750 to local human needs agencies and $150 to the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund in Washington.

In St. Louis, Bill Ramsey (staffer for the regional American Friends Service Committee office) spent 30 days in jail in for his prophetic witness. As a condition of probation, he was ordered by the federal judge to pay his military taxes, due . Bill has done as ordered, sending personal checks to seven life-affirming agencies and asking them to certify to the court that he has done so. It is unlikely that the federal judge will agree that Bill Ramsey has paid his taxes in this way. Bill is preparing himself spiritually for more prison time. But his point is made: We Americans and Canadians are robbing from the human needs so evident in our societies to build and sell weapons.

The witness of some among us to this truth goes on. Whether they continue to stand alone depends upon whether more of us come to incarnate the peacemaking of Jesus Christ in our own witness.

The edition had a brief follow-up that noted the Heartland Peace Tax Fund’s grants for .