Tax Resistance Against Taxpayer-Funded Sectarian Education

Ready for some more exiting archival digging about British nonconformists and their resistance to funding sectarian education? Thought so. From the San Francisco Call:

Passive Resistance

When the new education bill was under consideration in Parliament a number of the more earnest opponents of the feature of the bill providing for the support of church schools declared that if the Government undertook to collect taxes for the support of such schools they would refuse payment. The programme thus defined, became known as the policy of “passive resistance” and was the chief object of political discussion in the kingdom until Chamberlain’s imperial tariff issue distracted popular attention from the subject. The opponents of the measure, however, are standing by their guns, and we learn from our London exchanges that the passive resistance movement has already become formidable and is steadily extending throughout the country.

The Westminster Gazette deems the issue of sufficient importance to devote almost an entire page of a recent edition to publishing a record of the summonses that have been issued to compel the payment of taxes by the resisters. It appears that the first act of resistance occurred on , when four residents of the parish of Wirksworth were summoned before the local magistrates for refusing to pay the school taxes. Warrants were issued against their property and sixteen days later the sales took place without disturbance. Since that time down to , the day of the publication of the Gazette, upward of 3000 summonses were issued and the number of distraint sales amounted to sixty.

In most cases the resistance was strictly passive and no attempt was made to interfere with the officers in the sale of property seized for taxes, but at times there were evidences of a feeling that may give rise to trouble later on should the number of resisters ever become large enough to encourage a resort to an active resistance in place of a passive one. Reviewing the movement in another issue the Gazette says: “In large numbers of cases proceedings have not yet been taken and several months must elapse before the full extent of the resistance can be adequately measured.”

A careful study of the summonses shows that a majority of the resisters who have thus far been brought before the courts belong either to the Baptist, Congregational, or Primitive Methodist churches, but other free churches are well represented, notably the Wesleyans. Some surprise has been felt at the indifference to the issue of the Society of Friends, as the members of that church were strenuous leaders in the former battles against church rates. Members of the “Passive Resistance Committee” are quoted as saying that upward of 400 local leagues have been formed to resist the tax and that the movement is still extending.

In describing the manner in which the distraint sales are received by the public the Gazette says:

“There was some feeling displayed at a sale of the goods of Passive Resisters at Colchester yesterday, the Rev. T. Batty, a Baptist minister, and the Rev. Pierrepont Edwards, locally, known as ‘the fighting parson,’ entering into discussion in the auction room, but being stopped by the auctioneer, who said he did his work during the week and he hoped they did theirs on Sundays. At Long Eaton the goods of twenty-three Passive Resisters were sold amid demonstrations of hostility to the auctioneer. A boy was arrested for throwing a bag of flour. Six distress warrants were issued at Loughborough, in Leicestershire, while at Brighton the magistrates made orders in nearly one hundred cases. There was much demonstration in the court, the magistrates after one outburst leaving the bench and ordering the room to be cleared. Some people were put out, but others clung to their seats and would not move. The chief constable appealed to all to leave quietly, but realizing the ugly aspect of things, he consented to act as mediator and ask the magistrates to proceed on the understanding that there was no further disturbance. Thus the situation was saved.”

It will be remembered that when the tariff question was precipitated by Mr. Chamberlain some of the opponents of the education bill declared that the new issue had been raised solely for the purpose of evading the educational issue. The charge was unfair, but there can be no doubt that the Ministers were quite glad to get away from the denominational controversy which was threatened. Even as it is, however, there is going to be trouble with the law, and in some localities the struggle between the magistrates and the resisters may become quite serious before all is over.