Notes from the National War Tax Resistance Conference

You can read the minutes from the coordinating committee meeting that took place at the NWTRCC national gathering in Kansas City .

You can also find some photos and a video of a speech from the gathering on-line.

It looks like the gathering will be in Chicago, in the hopes of coordinating with the protests that will be taking place there in when NATO and the G-8 hold their meetings there.

I mentioned that I was working on what I called a “chronoscope” — a time-oriented search engine for Picket Line content.

I’m still working out the bugs, and so far only about half of the pages on the site are indexed, but if you want to give the prototype a spin, you can find my Chronoscope here.

From a petition to the Virginia legislature, drafted by Benjamin Bates on :

[The laws] now require that your memorialists, notwithstanding the insuperable objection of their religious scruples, should be trained to arms. Their refusal subjects them to fines, which within certain limitations, are fixed at the discretion of the courts martial, and become in numerous instances extremely oppressive. Nor is this all — your memorialists conceive that the voluntary payment of a fine imposed for adherence to religious duty, or the receiving of surplus money, arising from the sale of their property, seized for the satisfying of these demands, would be to acknowledge a delinquency, which they cannot admit, and to become parties in a traffic or commutation of their principles. Hence also, considerable loss is sustained. And notwithstanding your memorialists may acknowledge that many officers of the government, in these cases, manifest great reluctance, and execute their trust with a scrupulous regard to the interest of the sufferers; yet there are other instances in which wanton depredations are made on the property of individuals.

Your memorialists are aware that it may be said that the law does not discriminate between them and others, and that they ought equally to support the public burdens, and yield their services to the exigencies of the State. This objection supposes that a general law cannot have a partial or unequal operation. It supposes, too, that what maybe deemed a national concern, may supersede the chartered rights and privileges of the people. But your memorialists cannot suppose that these principles, which indeed are no other than the maxims of tyranny, will ever be deliberately adopted or acted upon by this legislature. If one member of the community believe that it is his duty to fight, aud to slay the enemies of his country, and if another believe that he is prohibited by divine command from planning the destruction or shedding the blood of his fellow creatures, the question, as it relates to the present subject, is not which, or whether either is wrong, but whether a law commanding both to take arms, would not operate unequally and violate the rights of conscience? It would operate unequally, because it does not discriminate — because to the conscience of the one it would enjoin the performance of a duty, to that of the other, the commission of a crime. It would violate the liberty of conscience, because it would compel under pains and penalties the performance or an act, which is believed offensive to the Divine Being. Human authority cannot, like the great Searcher of hearts, try the spirits of men respecting truth and error; it cannot remit the penalties of sin, or control the convictions of the heart; and therefore in this country at least, the liberty of conscience is wisely placed beyond the sphere of legislation, and protected from the encroachment of any power in the government.

While it is therefore evident, that the ostensible object of the law for training them to arms, cannot be effected; and it is presumed from the general notoriety of their principles, that it is not even expected to be attained — while your memorialists believe that the principles they hold can in no sense prove injurious to the community, and are persuaded that this legislature would disclaim the idea of raising revenue by laws inflicting fines on the free exercise of conscience — they trust, that a privilege conferred by the Supreme Being, and by the highest authority in this country declared to be sacred and inviolable, may be safely expected from its justice and liberality. They therefore respectfully petition, that the laws imposing military requisitions and penalties for non-compliance, may be considered as they respect your petitioners, and such relief afforded as to the wisdom of the legislature shall seem just and necessary.

Signed by order and on behalf of a meeting of the representatives of the aforesaid Society, held in Dinwiddie county, .

Benj. Bates, Clerk at this time.

Bates followed this petition up with a letter of his own in which he further questioned the right of the government to penalize or tax the exercise of a person’s conscientious scruples, saying that the government may only restrain someone’s freedom to put his religious beliefs into practice to the extent that it is necessary “to preserve the peace and order of society” and that “government has no right to bring the laws of God and man into competition.”

He rejects the idea that liberty of conscience only refers to abstract beliefs or professed doctrine, but insists it rightly means the whole domain of conscience — thoughts and acts governed by those thoughts.

…[S]till, it is contended, an expedient may be found which shall protect those rights from violation, and at the same time satisfy the law, which would otherwise infringe them. Thus — if the legislature enjoin the performance of certain duties, on which, it is supposed, the very existence of the government depends, and those duties happen to interfere with the constitutional rights of any individual, let that individual pay an equivalent, and be excused. If it be a military service, for instance, and his religious principles forbid him to fight, let him pay a tax for the support of schools, and make the tax equal to the military service. The argument fairly stated, stands thus — the Legislature shall not restrain the free exercise of conscience; but they may levy a tax upon the advantages derived from the exemption. Have I any objection to the support of schools? Far from it — I should rejoice to see knowledge and virtue diffused among the lower classes of society; I would cheerfully pay an equivalent for the purpose, and might even be disposed to encourage it by a voluntary contribution; but when I pay a partial tax — a fine, I am neither discharging the common duties of a citizen, nor doing an act of benevolence. I am paying a debt and — for what consideration? Plainly, for being allowed to enjoy liberty of conscience. But I do not derive the liberty of conscience from the government; I hold it from a tenure antecedent to the institutions of civil society. It was secured to me in the social compact, and it was never submitted to the Legislature at all. They have, therefore, no such privileges to grant or withhold, at their pleasure; and certainly no pretense or authority to sell it for a price. It appears, then, that this exclusive tax for the support of schools, is a groundless and oppressive demand. It is a muster fine in disguise — and violates the very principle which it seemed to respect.

But is it not unreasonable, it is asked, that our fellow citizens who believe war to be allowable and necessary, should be subjected to the hardships and privations incident to the training and service, while we, under the protection of our religions privileges, enjoy a complete exemption? We answer no. If those citizens do believe that war is necessary for their defence; if they conceive it to be their duty and their interest to fight; if it accords with their religious principles to repel aggressions by the sword; if, in the full exercise of their privileges, they give to the government authority to command them in these services; this is their own act. and they cannot complain of the consequences. But a man is not the judge of his neighbor’s conscience, and if the powers they surrender for themselves involve the constitutional privileges of others, they are binding only on those who have consented to them.