Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 1993

Today, some excerpts from The Catholic News Archive concerning tax resistance in .

The issue of The Catholic Worker brought an update about the Randy Kehler / Betsy Corner home seizure, sale, and occupation:

Now That April’s Here

By Brian Hynes

Randy Kehler, Betsy Corner and their 13 year-old daughter, Lillian, had not been in their Colrain, Massachusetts home for sixty weeks when I was last up for the vigil in their yard. They were evicted in , when the IRS finally seized their home as compensation for unpaid taxes. The house is currently occupied by a couple who “bought” it from the IRS. The hope is that these folks will come to see the seizure, and subsequent sale and purchase, as illegitimate. The argument of the War Tax Refusers Support Committee (WTR) is that “It is wrong to take people’s homes to force them to pay for war.”

Betsy and Randy have refused to pay their federal taxes since the ’70s. Although they file with the IRS every year, they don’t pay what they are said to owe. Instead they pay that amount to charities — some local, and some for other worthwhile endeavors.

In , the IRS started to take steps to confiscate the Kehler-Corner property, culminating in the auction of their home in . At this time, the IRS received many non-monetary bids from Randy and Betsy’s supporters but no outside bids, and ended up buying the place themselves. In a subsequent auction one monetary bid was received, just above the $5400 minimum. This was the famous bid by the current occupants, who were then given title to the house. By then, Randy had already been arrested for contempt of court and the whole family had been evicted. ( CW)

The occupation of Randy and Betsy’s home in support of their stand to resist this seizure, began immediately after the eviction. Despite its around-the-clock presence in the house, the new owners managed to move in when several people were at a war tax resistance demonstration. Since that time the support vigil has moved to the yard. Most recently a beautiful trailer, one room and a porch, built especially for the purpose, has been moved on to the property. There is one additional complexity to the situation. The house in question is on land owned by the Valley Community Land Trust. This means that the land itself was never confiscated, and therefore was never “sold” to the family now occupying the house. Furthermore, the members of the Land Trust, while certainly sympathetic to WTR, also have legitimate claims and concerns about what is happening, as the IRS transferred title to the house while disregarding the stipulations of the land lease. Pursuant to these concerns, the Land Trust has filed suit against the family who bought the house from the IRS. At the time of my last visit, lawyers were preparing for a future hearing on this problem.

The vigil has been a time to think about many issues in discussion with people of diverse backgrounds. The concern and commitment that I have seen there are noteworthy. It is daunting, in an environment of such diversity, to reach common ground for moral commitment. In Colrain, however, there is a strong consensus.

The consensus is for active nonviolence in the context of the refusal to pay for war. It has been argued that taxation is a societal responsibility but the history of carnage is too great for us to avoid the moral issues of militarism and its support through taxation, by claiming that societal responsibility gives it legitimacy. In fact, societal responsibility is exactly the point, and nonviolence is exactly the confrontation of moral issues by moral methods. (Militarism, instead, confronts moral issues by immoral methods.) The continuing use of military force by our nation is a moral issue that requires confrontation. This confrontation is the consensus in Colrain. The consensus proceeds from a long and loving tradition of nonviolent transformation of society. The question that is worked and reworked there is now to give this living tradition rebirth in the changing situation up at Colrain.

I suggest a visit to lend your strength to theirs. Please contact War Tax Refusers, c/o Traprock Peace Center, Keets Road, Deerfield, MA 03142. (413) 774‒2710, or, (413) 773‒7427.

The issue of The Catholic Worker included a book review that again told the story of Saint Hugh of Lincoln and promoted his claim to be the (unofficial) patron saint of war tax resisters. (See for a previous Catholic Worker article on that topic.)

The issue of that paper carried a statement from jailed war tax resister Bill Ramsey:

No Limits On The Promise Of God

By Bill Ramsey

As I reflect back on the path that brought me to this cell, along with the many points of decision and sharp turns of the legal process, there was one reliable trail mark — the interplay between conscience and community, between risk-taking and relationship building.

Any way I measure it, the trail to this cell is a long one, but never a lonely one. Most immediately, it began on with an action in the public waiting room of the IRS Taxpayer Information Service in St. Louis. With other members of the St. Louis Covenant Community of War Tax Resisters, I planned to pass out a federal spending piechart to the steady stream of hundreds of people with taxes on their minds and time on their hands as they waited for service. No disruption was planned, only an orderly attempt to communicate.

Within an hour, two of us were arrested after refusing an order to leave the waiting room. In , a federal judge convicted me of unlawful leafleting. I was acquitted of charges that we disrupted taxpayers and IRS employees. At the US Attorney’s insistence, a pre-sentencing investigation was conducted. It displayed my 20 years of public war tax resistance to the judge. In , he sentenced me to three years of federal probation, with a special condition that required that I file and pay all taxes due. From this point forward, this court-ordered condition and my conscience were on a collision course.

War tax resisters around the country urged me to consider the potential chilling effect that the probation condition would have if applied to other war tax resisters. They introduced me to Peter Goldberger, an attorney who specializes in First Amendment appeals, who would take my appeal to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. The national war tax resistance network was alerted and offers of support came from around the country.

Meanwhile in St. Louis, a local support committee was formed. War tax resisters, homeless shelter workers, a survivor of the Nazi holocaust, sanctuary providers, domestic violence counselors, educators, a priest, and a community development planner all came together to provide assistance. They raised legal fees, set up an emergency response phone tree, served as a clearness committee, and planned a public challenge to my probation.

Two members wrote an op-ed piece published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch proposing that the US government, rather than myself, should be placed on probation for violating international law, refusing to pay dues to the United Nations, and trafficking in arms. It served as our indictment. This community of support convened a People’s Tribunal on . Richard Falk, Professor of International Law at Princeton, presented the case against the government. Former Secretaries of Defense and Treasury were invited to represent the government but sent letters of regret. Domestic victims of the arms race testified. One hundred thirty “jurors” placed the government on probation, listing the conditions which were presented to the St. Louis US Attorney on by a delegation from the Tribunal.

Collective Challenge

As I approached the collision of my conscience with the court-ordered condition, preparing to refuse to pay my taxes on , I was upheld by this community of support I was also inspired and grateful that they had been able to turn the questions around my probation into a collective challenge of the fundamental contradictions underlying US policy.

After a public refusal to pay my taxes on , I was summoned to a probation revocation hearing on . The national war tax resistance network was alerted and letters from around the country arrived on the judge’s desk. Locally, the support community planned an overnight vigil at my church for the night before the hearing. I invited the judge to the opening service. He did not respond. One hundred thirty people participated in the vigil which concluded an hour before the hearing with a Catholic Mass. Fifty supporters attended the hearing.

But that night, I had a decision to make. I felt that the government was using the probation revocation hearing as a way to circumvent the need for a trial in front of a jury of my peers. I would not get my day in court to publicly explain my reasons for refusing to pay war taxes. Do I remain in the church, refusing to recognize the constitutionality of the hearing? The appeal on the constitutional grounds of freedom of speech and religion had failed. Or do I answer the summons, appearing in court, but remain silent in my own defense — only making a brief statement of my motives which the court had refused to take into consideration? I was without an answer. After deliberation with members of the support community, my wife, and war tax refusers in Colrain, Massachusetts, we came to a resolution. Respond to the summons, make the statement, and direct the public eye to my refusal to pay for death, and not to a refusal to show up in court.

My statement in court cited my responsibilities to Nuremberg principles, knowing that my government used tax money to commit war-crimes in Panama, Nicaragua, and Iraq, and fearing the US military operations in Somalia and Bosnia would soon result in indiscriminate attacks on civilians. The statement also focused on my religious convictions. The resources we hold are a divine trust not to be surrendered to war-making. Looking back on US interventions during my lifetime and on testimony offered in the Bible, it is clear that when nations resort to violent force, it is usually to protect privilege, not people. No situation or person stands outside God’s transforming work in history. To kill is to assume that we have the right to place limits on the promises of God.

These are the beliefs I placed before the court. In return, I received a 30-day sentence, to be followed by another year of supervised release with the same special condition that I pay taxes. On , the order came for me to surrender to the Williamson County Jail in Marion, Illinois. My refusal to surrender brought a summons to appear in court. Again the larger community of support gathered for Mass at my church and then filled the spectators gallery in the court room. After I refused to sign a bond guaranteeing that I would surrender, I was taken into custody.

Jailed for two days in the overcrowded and violence-laden conditions of the St. Clair County Jail, I discovered another community among the young men from East St. Louis who shared my cell block. We slept toe to toe, many of us on the floor. We ate inadequate meals shoulder to shoulder. They were without resources. Many seemed to have no one on the outside who cared about them. Others were hardened by their life experiences. Bantering and talk of drugs, guns, and sex resounded through the cell block until the middle of the night.

And yet, as we offered each other a little more space, plotted to get more food into the cell block, and shared our stories and one Bible among us, I began to sense camaraderie and a community forming. In the blessed silence of the second morning, the faces of my support community on the outside merged with the faces of the young men sleeping all around me. I knew then that I could do the entire 30 days in that cell block. Several hours later, federal marshals arrived to take me to a new cell block in Williamson County.

It amazes me that anyone could believe that placing me in these county jails would somehow change my mind about paying war taxes. Somehow, confined to these jails that expose the obscured violence of the status quo in our society, I am supposed to see the light and admit that the spending priorities are “right enough,” that the system is “just enough,” and that perhaps, after all, force and violence are appropriate ways to correct human behavior and resolve conflict. The authorities wager that fear of those around me in these cell blocks and my physical separation from my primary communities will drive my conscience underground. What they don’t realize is that these jails and the people in them are just another opportunity for community and that these walls cannot separate me from the communities of support. They just don’t get it. Acts of conscience thrive on community!

A longer view of my path to this cell would include the community in Durham, North Carolina, that first challenged me to resist war taxes in . Down the path would be my colleagues over the last 17 years in the American Friends Service Committee, an organization that not only tolerates civil disobedience, but affirms employees’ acts of conscience. Add to all these the St. Louis Catholic Worker Community where I lived and worked in and the extended Worker community that remains at my side through everything. As the path continues, there are members of my inner-city parish, struggling together to understand and act on our faith. All along the path is the St. Louis Covenant Community of War Tax Resisters, linked to communities and humanitarian efforts throughout the world through alternative gifts from our resisted taxes.

And then there is the beloved community of my family, Cathy and my five children. As we traveled this summer visiting friends and relatives with the prospect of my imprisonment before us, a more refined closeness grew among us. We hold each other a little tighter these days, even over the distance that separates us for these 30 days. As I write from this cell, Cathy and our children are surrounded by acts of kindness as the broader support community assists her with the day to day chores of running our household and caring for our children. My absence seems to have become the occasion for further experiments in community.

As I look back on all of this, I am convinced that the convergence of heart and will that we call acts of conscience is a gradual slope, with many small steps. Each risk taken clears the way for the next. Everytime I raised my foot to take that next step, a community of people was there, prepared to steady my stride and to catch me if I fell. I am now certain that this journey is impossible, unless one is accompanied. In the end, it is the collective courage and transforming gifts of community that empower our individual acts of conscience.

“Step by step the longest march, can be won, can be won,
Many stones can form an arch, singly none, singly none.”