War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1971

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

War tax resistance continued to come up frequently in the pages of the Friends Journal in .

In the issue, Clifford Neal Smith examined radical, communal economic restructuring as one potential Quaker approach worth considering — not state Communism, but something along the lines of Hutterite communities that took their inspiration from Acts 2:45–46: “All that believed were together, and had all things common; and sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need.” Smith suggested “that Friends give thought to the possible restructuring of our Meetings into communes” along these lines.

In particular, he thought, “the communal way will recommend itself to Friends who with to resist the payment of war taxes, for, as the Hutterites have found, there is a considerable tax saving to the communal way, particularly as practiced by a religious organization.” He also anticipated that “in the event that Friendly testimony against the military-industrial complex should become effective enough to be recognized by the establishment as the real foe of the present system,” communes would help Quakers be more resilient against the persecution that would inevitably follow.

In the same issue was a letter-to-the-editor by Philip van der Goes in which he made the hopeful suggestion that the government allow taxpayers to designate on their tax forms which federal agencies they want to fund.

In the following issue, Betty Gulick wrote a piece in which she expressed that Quakers, by “personally lending support to the most violent of societies (our own) by our taxes, our jobs, our investments, by silence and by our merely going along with things as they are,” lose the credibility they need to have to recommend nonviolence to the “aggressive victims of aggressive prejudice and poverty.”

In that issue also was an article about activists in Puerto Rico who had constructed a chapel in a U.S. Navy firing range on the island of Culebra, in defiance of a Federal injunction. One of those arrested was Dan Balderston. The article reprinted his statement, from which I take the following excerpt:

My people, the Quakers, have always insisted that God is to be obeyed and not men, and that we are neither to be satisfied with the state of things, nor with a promise of salvation in the hereafter, but live as though the Kingdom were already here — without doing violence or harming our brother. They refused to own their brothers as slaves, refused to kill or to pay taxes to kill — for example, my great-great-grandfather, Lloyd Balderston, refused to pay war taxes during the Civil War and the government expropriated several of his hogs. The Quakers have fallen with the rest of the Babylonians, but there is a remnant which seeks to recall the voice of Jesus to the Society of Friends, and I think that we of A Quaker Action Group seek to act for that remnant and to find once more the spirit of the early Christians and the early Friends.

In seeking the will of Jesus for our time, some of us have been led to break the laws of the United States — thus A Quaker Action Group sent the sailboat Phoenix to North Vietnam with medical supplies in violation of the law against “trading with the enemy,” and thus I have refused to register for war, and last year refused to pay the ten percent war tax on telephones.…

Jane Meyerding wrote in from prison, where she was serving time for her action in destroying draft board, U.S. Attorney, and FBI records. Excerpts:

We have to stop this war. We have to end the military takeover of our economy, our minds, and our young men. We have to retake control of this nation in order to stop its wanton destruction of lives here and abroad.

Of course, these things will not be accomplished simply because we want them to be. The first step in the direction of change is to look for opportunities to act effectively. This first step is harder than it sounds. I had to be practically hit over the head with it before I opened my eyes to see how I could be useful. (I thank God the action was successful even with my reluctance to accept disruption of my “business as usual.”)

After the opportunities are discovered, they have to be taken. We all have opportunities to stop paying war taxes, to publicly remove our support from the government’s war policies, to “aid and abet” those who take direct action against the institutions of war. Why do we so often leave the most radical and risky parts of our witness to the young men who have already put at least some aspects of their futures in jeopardy by refusing to comply with the draft?

With so much to be done, we all just have to become activists of one sort or another. From now on — each time a step away from war and toward peace needs to be taken — if I do not take it, you will have to; if you do not take it, I shall have to. None of us can afford to miss any more opportunities.

So, what will I be doing when I get out? As much as I can of what needs to be done. With as many friends (and Friends) as possible.

The issue noted that the Ann Arbor (Michigan) Meeting was asking telephone tax resisters to pay their phone bills, minus the excise tax, as a group, in order to “[p]rotest the obscenity of war.”

Brinton Turkle shared his decision to start resisting in the issue:

One of the most familiar Quaker stories concerns William Penn’s reluctance to give up wearing his sword when he became a Friend. With great wisdom (and some humor, I think), George Fox is supposed to have told William Penn to wear his sword as long as he could. On , I sent this letter to the Internal Revenue Service and thus took off a sword I had been wearing long enough:


To repudiate a government that no longer represents me, I am not filing a federal, state, or city income tax this year.

I am self-employed. In the past, federal taxes I have filed but refused to pay in protest were simply seized from my savings account. To make my earnings less accessible for uses I abhor, I have been deliberately remiss in keeping records of my income and expenses. An accurate assessment of my taxes is therefore impossible.

I expect harassment and retribution to follow my defiance of a government that has made my nation the greatest scourge mankind has ever suffered. Imprisonment may end my career as a creator of books for children. It is a privilege to be able to bring enrichment and delight to young people. It is work I do with love and pride. My work is not murder.

I would not release a bomb or pull a trigger. I would not pay another man to do these things, nor would I buy his weapons.

My Lai stops with me.

Brinton Turkle

How long was it before the awareness of the sheer senselessness of encumbering himself with a sword caused William Penn to discard it? What a relief it must have been to him to be rid of it!

It was a long time until the awareness of the enormity of underwriting murder brought me to the act of civil disobedience I have just committed. About twenty years ago, I began to see that America’s war machine rolled on our tax dollars and nothing else. Tentatively, I sent notes to Internal Revenue with my tax payments disapproving of our national priorities and the Korean war.

When the horrors piled up in Vietnam five years ago, I sent a letter of protest instead of payment with my federal income tax file. I thought I was facing prison, but it turned out that I was not a criminal — only a delinquent. There followed a correspondence of one-sided passion between me and a computer. Internal Revenue took the money from my savings account with six percent interest.

The war continued. A Quaker president in the name of peace-seeking opened up the war in Cambodia and Laos and began to show unmistakable signs of affliction: Either he was captive to his own overweening ambition, or else he was in pawn to the Pentagon and the industries it supports. Perhaps he was doubly afflicted and thus worthy of a compassion that I did not have the goodness to give him.

Holding in the Light a man to whom truth is a mere expedience, a man who is using his power to tear our country apart, a man who has caused the death and maiming of thousands, is beyond my present capabilities. My tax status, however, as a self-employed person gives me a peculiar opportunity, and I have grasped it.

I have heard the objections. Some of them I cannot answer. One does what one must. Swordlessness will never be understood by some.

Father Daniel Berrigan has summed it up for this Quaker:

“…To be right now in some serious trouble with respect to the ‘powers and principalities’ of this nation means to occupy a most important geographical position — if one wishes to struggle with others all over the world for their freedom; and by the same token to be in no trouble at all is to share in what I take to be a frightening movement towards violence and death. To resist that movement is one’s choice.”

A choice has been made, and I feel pounds lighter.

The issue brought the news that the New York Yearly Meeting planned to file a friend-of-the-court brief in the AFSC lawsuit challenging mandatory employer income tax withholding from the paychecks of conscientiously resisting employees (see ♇ 15 July 2013). The issue added that the Meeting also “agreed to publicize… a two-year-old minute regarding the non-payment of the telephone tax for war by the Yearly Meeting Office. It urges Friends who are also nontaxpayers to join in a possible advertisement” and proposed a “minute on the deliberate nonwithholding of wage tax levies for Internal Revenue Service when requested by Yearly Meeting employees. The complex procedure would notify Internal Revenue Service of the percentage of wages not withheld and the possible setting up of a special fund of these monies for peaceful uses.”

The “Sufferings” column of the issue include listings for Paula & Howard Cell, who “[h]ad an automobile seized by Internal Revenue for refusal to pay the war tax on their telephone,” for Bill Himmelbauer, who was “[s]entenced to one year in prison for refusal to pay war taxes on his income. To do this he openly altered his W-4 form,” and for Lilian & George Willoughby, who “[h]ad an automobile seized by Internal Revenue for refusal to pay the war tax on their telephone.”

Robin Harper

The issue brings the first mention of the war tax resistance of Robin Harper, who will periodically appear in the context of war tax resistance in the magazine for . His first appearance comes in the “Sufferings” column:

Robin and Marlies Harper, London Grove Meeting, Pennsylvania: Falsely assessed, after a decade of resistance to military taxes, for $32,000 in alleged unpaid taxes, interest, and penalties. The Harpers actually refused less than $8000, including penalties, over these years.

The “Sufferings” column in the issue gave an update:

[The Harpers s]ucceeded in convincing IRS to reduce its claim upon the family for a decade of unpaid federal income taxes from thirty-two thousand five hundred dollars to a bit more than seven thousand dollars.

Robin explained: “Under duress, I sent IRS income tax returns for to set the record straight — a clear compromise in order to protect our family from great financial hardship should IRS proceed to seize such unwarranted sums from me.”

The issue mentioned Harper among a number of war tax resisters, and described his resistance thusly:

Conscientiously opposed to participation in war of any form, Robin began his tax resistance in in opposition to the nuclear arms race. The war in Indochina has deepened his conviction. He insists that during he contributed $3,385 to “organizations engaged in constructive programs designed to repair ravages of war abroad and counteract the ugly wounds inflicted by segregation and discrimination at home…” The IRS, however, claims he owes $3,206 plus $1,502 in penalties and $2,700 in interest. Robin is asking the U.S. Tax Court to reject all IRS claims for the 10-year period.

In the issue, Harper is mentioned as being “a member of the War Tax Concern Support Committee” who addressed the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting about that subject, “urging a symbolic tax refusal of a small portion of these taxes as a witness to the Peace Testimony.” Alas, “[a]fter a deep and searching discussion, there remained some who did not feel comfortable with this kind of witness. Later in the week a revised minute was presented, and after renewed searching it was adopted.” No details are given about this revised minute.

I next notice Harper in the Friends Journal archives in the edition, which finds him again (still?) battling the IRS in court:

In three court hearings, attended by as many as 40 supporters, tax resister Robin Harper… testified recently that he could not be compelled against his religious beliefs to participate in the collection of taxes for war purposes. In the final hearing, Edwin Bronner, Haverford College history professor, appeared as an expert witness to spell out the 300-year history of the Friends Peace Testimony.

The government apparently considered the arguments presented, including an excellent brief prepared by volunteer attorneys, as too compelling. Department of Justice lawyers abruptly withdrew their subpoena issued to Harper a year earlier to force him to present documents and answer questions in federal court in Philadelphia.

In the issue, Harper wrote at length about war tax resistance in the Society of Friends. He mentioned the cases of three Philadelphia Yearly Meeting employees who were resisters, and how the IRS had filed lawsuits to try to compel the Meeting to levy their salaries.

In her decision in , Judge Norma Shapiro denied the validity of the [refusal to pay] penalty but upheld the levy, which the yearly meeting then paid “under duress.” In each instance the yearly meeting incurred legal expenses, but the individual employee reimbursed it for the full amount of the actual IRS collection.

Harper then proposed a series of queries “for the purposes of discussion and discernment… mindful that beneath each lies the Grand Query: ‘What does the Spirit require of me?’ ”:

Query 1: If I am opposed to the military conscription of my body, am I called to bear witness to the military conscription of my tax dollars?

Query 2: How do I approach the dilemma of paying taxes for constructive government programs while resisting payment for war preparation?

Query 3: Does the fact that billions of military tax dollars are unearmarked and hidden “in the mixture” in the U.S. treasury lessen my burden to bear witness?

Query 4: Have I sought clearness on what to do with the money I have refused to pay in military taxes? Are alternative funds that use my refused taxes to pay for peace and social justice initiatives an adequate spiritual response from me?

If the Peace Tax Fund were passed by Congress, would the escrow account thereby established be an acceptable alternative?

Query 5: How much inconvenience or suffering am I prepared to accept for the “moral disarmament” of my federal taxes, such as penalties and interest on refused taxes, seizure of bank accounts, salaries, or other assets, or loss of credit?

Query 6: As a military tax refuser, am I sufficiently sensitive to the impact my witness may have on loved ones, co-workers and others who may not share my conviction but whose personal, spiritual, financial, or professional well-being might be affected by my witness?

Query 7: When a Quaker employer must choose between compliance with government demands and honoring the conscientious witness of an employee, where does its allegiance lie? What issues of faith make this decision a difficult one?

Query 8: Honoring the conscientious witness of an employee may place serious risk on the Quaker employer, its members, and other employees. How do Friends institutions balance support of employee conscience against these risks?

Query 9: Should Quaker employers rest easy serving as collectors of federal military taxes by routinely withholding income taxes from their employees and remitting them, without protest, to the Internal Revenue Service?

Query 10: When making a strong, public witness against military taxes by protest or refusal to pay, is a Quaker institution likely to strengthen or weaken the peace movement? The Religious Society of Friends? The possibility of doing successfully the work for which the institution was created? (This query is taken from page 189 of the Handbook on Military Taxes and Conscience, edited by Linda Coffin…)

In the issue, Harper responded with a letter-to-the-editor to a critic of war tax resistance as a Quaker practice who had published a piece . Harper recommended a carefully-designed form of war tax resistance that might overcome the critic’s objections:

[L]et us suppose a conscientious taxpayer, engaging in open civil disobedience,

  • refuses to render 100 percent of her/his federal income tax to the Internal Revenue Service (say “no” to war).
  • carefully calculates the tax liability and redistributes the entire sum to recipients engaged in building up civil society in peaceful ways, thus excluding any personal benefit. Includes list of recipients/amounts and a “letter of conscience” along with tax return — a transparent witness (say “yes” to peace).
  • declares to IRS that he/she recognizes a moral responsibility to contribute to the general welfare by paying one’s fair share of taxes — hence this “alternative service” for the tax (taking personal responsibility).
  • clarifies to IRS that the full tax would gladly be paid, provided the government would assure the taxpayer that it would be spent exclusively for nonmilitary purposes, as defined by Congress, which is the legislative architecture of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, still pending in Congress (support legal relief for this dilemma of conscience).

Finally, in the issue, Harper’s war tax resistance got a mention in an article by Parker J. Palmer, based on a speech he gave on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Pendle Hill Quaker Center:

I am going to end with a small story that has big meaning for me. Back in the day, a wonderful man named Robin Harper was head of buildings and grounds… Robin was and still is a conscientious war tax refuser. Not only did this mean the possibility of prosecution and imprisonment, but tax resistance made very heavy demands on his life. He had to be employed by people who would agree not to withhold any taxes, which shrinks one’s job opportunities dramatically, and he could not own any real property that could be seen by the IRS as capable of being turned into cash. But he has never done time because his integrity is so self-evident, not unlike that of John Woolman.

When I was a young man here, I shared Robin’s abhorrence of war (as I do to this day), but I could not imagine taking the risks and making the sacrifices required of me. I was at that stage of moral development where I had very high ethical aspirations and equally high levels of guilt about the way I continually fell short. One day I went to Robin and told him of my dilemma. “I believe what you believe,” I said, “and I want to put my beliefs into action, but I just cannot bring myself to do what you do.”

Robin responded plainly,simply, and with great compassion. “Keep holding the belief,” he said, “and follow it wherever it may lead you. As time goes on you will find your own way of resisting violence and promoting peace, one that fits with your gifts and your calling.” That is Quakerism at its best. That is community at its best. That is teaching at its best. That is friendship at its best.