Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1995–1998

This is the fortieth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we finish off the mid-1990s.

The Mennonite

An editorial tribute to Jerry Keiper, in the edition mentioned his work in developing the influential math software Mathematica

He established the Michael and Margarethe Sattler Foundation to distribute his royalties from Mathematica to people in need. He thus kept his income below the taxable level in order not to contribute tax money to the military.

The Mathematica Journal has more details about this:

Following his deeply-held personal and religious beliefs, Keiper lived in a very simple manner. He wore simple clothes, ate simple food, and used a bicycle as his primary means of transportation. He also felt that to be consistent in not supporting the military, he should avoid paying taxes to the government. For a while, this meant that he would accept almost no salary. But in the end he worked out a scheme for donating all but a small percentage of his salary to charity. In addition, Keiper set up a foundation, which he named the Michael and Margarethe Sattler Foundation, after two early Mennonite martyrs. As part of Keiper’s compensation, Wolfram Research then made donations to this foundation. The foundation solicited proposals, and in turn supported various colleges, giving them both funds and copies of Mathematica.

Charles Hurst’s and Maria Smith’s letter to the IRS was reprinted in one issue. The letter announced that they were redirecting about 40% of their taxes “to groups or projects that bring healing for our world.”

A supplement designed for the triennial conference noted that through the Commission on Home Ministries, “[p]eace and justice resources have been sent to individuals and congregations on such subjects as military draft registration, alternatives to paying war taxes in the United States and Canada, and New Call to Peacemaking peace education resources.”

A profile of attorney Sharon Heath in the edition briefly mentioned that shortly after joining a Mennonite church “she decided to become a war tax resister by living below the taxable income level.”

An editorial by Gordon Houser in the edition urged that “In our daily affairs we must learn to stand against the idol called Bomb” and then, somewhat vaguely, said “We will want to ask ourselves how our tax dollars are being spent and how we should respond to that.”

An article by John K. Stoner in the same issue echoed this: “What does it mean for our souls that we have become willing to call down fire from heaven and have made the capacity to call down fire from heaven the centerpiece of our national security doctrine? What does this do to every person who consents to it, pays their taxes for it, and remains silent as generation after generation of nuclear missiles and weapons are developed?”

These sort of sidewise-glances at war taxes seemed to be becoming common. A report on the triennial conference, for example, noted in passing: “Meanwhile, violence occurs in our homes; people of color experience a qualified acceptance in our churches; our tax dollars continue to support the building of nuclear weapons.”

The triennial sessions also seemed to sidestep any official recognition of war tax resistance, replacing this with support for a Peace Tax Fund law:

GC delegates also passed a resolution calling one another to support the (U.S.) Peace Tax and the (Canadian) Peace Trust campaigns, which work to provide legal alternatives to paying war taxes. This was the third consecutive GC triennial session to affirm a peace-tax resolution.

A letter from Don Schrader appeared in the issue, in which he expanded on the theme of the hypocrisy of praying for peace while paying for war, noted his own choice of a life of voluntary simplicity, and concluded: “For 16 years I have paid no federal income tax, and I am not silent. I say, Not with my money, not with my silence, not in my name.”

The Council of Commissions met in . According to a report, the Commission on Home Ministries in its meeting “agreed that the Student Aid Fund for Non-Registrants should also apply to students who cannot get loans because they are war-tax resisters.”

In a editorial about baptism, Gordon Houser made a point of casting the original theological debate about infant baptism as in part a tax resistance issue:

Those early believers were called Anabaptists out of derision. At that time the state church in Europe baptized infants, which not only placed them on the church’s membership list but on the state’s tax rolls as well.

Refusing to baptize infants and baptizing adults was a political act at that time, one that threatened the sovereignty of the state government. It served as a form of tax refusal, since taxpayer lists came from church membership rolls. It also served as a protest against the state’s authority to conscript people to fight the Turks.

A letter to the editor from David E. Ortman, printed in the issue, explained how the resistance landscape had changed for telephone tax resisters in the aftermath of the breakup of the telephone service provider monopoly. It mentioned two phone companies that had created official ways for resisters to have the federal excise tax removed from their phone bills. The letter ended: “Now, if church organizations only had as much courage or political muscle as phone companies to avoid being tax collectors.”

The edition gave an update on the case of war tax resisters Elizabeth Gravalos and Art Harvey, whose home and farm had been seized and auctioned off by the IRS.

In the edition, Titus Peachey reported on “[a]n informal survey of 17 Mennonite and Brethren in Christ institutions in North America [that] has found that few have written policies related to war taxes.”

But some do honor requests from employees not to withhold all of their federal income taxes or the portion which would otherwise go for military-related expenditures. Others have policies opposing Internal Revenue Service levies of accounts of war tax resisters.

Most institutions surveyed had not fielded such requests within .

The General Conference Mennonite Church has had a tax-withholding policy in place and has implemented it several times. The Mennonite Church General Board agreed in to “honor the request of an employee who for conscience’ sake requests that the military portion of his or her federal income tax not be withheld.”

Mennonite Mutual Aid approved a policy asking the Internal Revenue Service to lift levies related to war taxes. “To the extent legally possible, MMA supports its members who are protesting the payment of war taxes by initially requesting that IRS collection attempts or levies on MMA-controlled assets be lifted,” the policy states.

Pennsylvania Mennonite Federal Credit Union in adopted a similar position.

In a letter responding to an IRS levy on an employee’s wages, Mennonite Central Committee wrote: “We do not want to do anything as an organization that would be an offense to the conscience and beliefs of such individuals or that would suggest support for the world’s arms race… We would therefore respectfully request that the levy… be withdrawn.”

A classified ad appeared in the edition that read:

Attention war tax resisters: Now you can avoid war taxes without IRS harassment. For free information, send SASE to: Yoder’s Tax Information, 10630 Hiser’s Lane, Broadway, VA 22815.

The edition brought this note:

Given the Internal Revenue Service’s sullied reputation, this shouldn’t surprise us, although it probably should offend us: After years of trying to resolve the issue, Grace Montgomery, a Quaker war-tax resister from Stamford, Conn., is calling for an investigation after the IRS illegally cashed a photocopy of a check not even made out to the IRS.

According to the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund newsletter, Montgomery each year places the military portion of her federal income tax in a Quaker escrow account. The IRS then usually levies her bank account for the amount owed. But in , the IRS cashed a photocopy of Montgomery’s check to the escrow account. Her bank accepted it even though it was not genuine and was made out to “The Religious Society of Friends.”