War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2003

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

It is . The insane bloodlust of the United States has led it to embark on the shameful and catastrophic Iraq War. Surely there is no time like the present for American Quakers to recall their proud tradition of war tax resistance and refuse to fund the madness. Let’s see if we can find any signs of this the Friends Journal.

A profile of Tom and Anne Moore in the issue quoted Tom as saying: “We have done things not for money but just because we thought they were important and useful. We’re war tax resisters, for which we’ve had strong support from Quakers, as well as many of our friends and colleagues throughout the years.”

Notes in that issue also mentioned that the Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting had endorsed the latest Peace Tax Fund bill, as had the Green Party. A later issue added the endorsement of the Illinois Yearly Meeting. In each case, as was too frequently the case, the endorsement was in lieu of endorsing war tax resistance, not supplemental to it.

An article about the “Philadelphia Yearly Meeting women’s gathering” noted in passing that among the “urgent concerns about our world and culture[ w]e identified a web of violence, including payment for war through taxes.”

As the invasion of Iraq grew imminent, in the issue appeared the following desperate op-ed by Kent R. Larrabee:

A social movement that could abolish war

Our Peace Testimony stands out as central to our faith. Simply stated, we commit ourselves to not participating in the taking of human life. It seems impossible for Quakers and other peacemakers to uphold this commitment. Nearly 50 percent of the money we give to the government through income taxes goes for the military: killing, destruction of homes, schools, businesses, and other sources of income. We don’t follow what we believe. How can we do that?

There is an answer. In the early days of Quakerism, William Penn, a prominent Quaker whose father held a high military position, went to George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, and explained how impossible it was for him to give up wearing his sword. When he asked, “What shall I do?” George Fox answered, “Wear thy sword as long as thou canst.” It is that simple. Something inside of us may well be saying, “Pay your income tax as long as you can.” It may not be very long if the Spirit is speaking to you and the message doesn’t go away.

My experience has been a challenging one. I learned gradually about the power of nonviolent direct action and love as exhibited by Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., and A.J. Muste. In World War Ⅱ, I was taken from my job helping people in the slums to survive and put into prison for not cooperating with the military stand of our government. Following the war, I was drawn into social welfare programs with the federal government and had to pay large amounts of income tax. Gradually, it dawned on me that a large percentage of my tax money was going into the military budget. First it was about 35 percent, but it kept climbing to nearly 50 percent. I had worked to the top of the federal payroll and was getting a good salary.

I finally woke up! I was blatantly contradicting all my belief in the power of love in human relations and the power of nonviolent direct action. At the height of my career, I knew that if I was to have faith in the power of the teachings and the example of Jesus and other spiritual leaders, I would have to resign from my job, give up my retirement security, and find a way to live below the income tax level where one does not have to pay the tax. I resigned my position in . I have been living below the tax line ever since, though tempted by good job offers.

It hasn’t been easy by some standards, and I had a lot to learn about how to live simply, buying used clothing, doubling up in housing, and driving a 15-year-old car. The result? I felt a great relief. I was no longer, indirectly, taking human lives. My three children went to college and succeeded on their own. I had the freedom to be more creative and effective in my social reform projects. No salary needed. At 84 years, I feel it is useless to spend a lot of energy worrying about how long I am going to live. I just want to be doing what I love and feel led to do.

We have spent trillions preparing for possible or extended wars. Many millions have been killed by war and organized violence. Now, the very survival of our planet is at stake. There is another way. If 15 percent of our adult population openly took such a stand for peace and refused to pay income tax for the military, the masses could become convinced — and our planet could be radically changed. Let us wait in deep silence until God speaks to us. Then we will know what is right and we will be miraculously supported.

Peg Morton, in an article in the issue in which she explained her civil disobedience action against the School of the Americas, and why she would not be paying any fine assessed against her:

I am a war tax resister, not willing voluntarily to pay a fine to a government so deep in military slaughter and buildup. I would be quite willing to donate the fine to a worthy, life-giving cause, such as Afghan relief. I would be unwilling to promise not to cross the line again. I am committed, in the best way I know how, to follow the leadings of the Spirit.

An obituary notice for Viola Evelyn Purvis in the issue said that “[h]er form of war tax protest was to live so simply she would not have to pay taxes.”

An Earlham School of Religion supplement dated that is included in the set of PDFs I’ve been reviewing profiles Wallace Collett as an exemplary donor to the School, and mentions that “[h]e also served as national clerk of the American Friends Service Committee, and has spoken widely about tax resistance as peace witness.”

Marilyn Roper penned a letter-to-the-editor about the war tax resistance of her and her husband Harrison that appeared in the issue. Excerpts:

The main reason we left the Philadelphia area was to live in a less expensive part of the world, because we were quitting our jobs (Harry was a tenured associate professor at West Chester University, and I worked at the University Museum of University of Pennsylvania) so as not to have to pay for war and preparations for war. The sale of our home in Haverford (part of the Quaker community around Haverford Meeting) and purchase of our very inexpensive home in the small town of Houlton allowed us to put the difference into federally tax-free municipal bonds. Over time, we have been able to add to our holdings of municipal bonds. Although the interest is very modest, the principal is secure as inheritance for our descendants.

For most of our years in Maine we have never had to pay a cent of income tax to the federal government, while at the same time we were helping to finance numerous life-enhancing state, city, and county projects such as schools, higher education, and better sewer systems. This year we had to pay $15 to the IRS, but with $3 apiece going to support presidential elections, that amount was reduced to $9. Because we did not have to write a big check to the IRS for April 15, we were able to contribute to Oxfam America, UNICEF, and other groups for relief in Iraq. In other words, we have the opportunity to carry out our own foreign and domestic aid program in lieu of paying federal taxes. We happily pay the state and local taxes that support our wonderful local school system and other worthy projects. All the while, we have continued to be peace activists and sleep better at night.

For those who are troubled by Jesus’ words, “Render to Caesar…” (Mark 12: 13–17), please consider if you reread this passage the fact that there were several kinds of legal tender in Jesus’ day: Roman and Jewish coinage. Why did Jesus ask that the Pharisees show him a coin instead of reaching into his own pocket? Perhaps the whole point of this exercise was to find out what type of coinage the Pharisees were using. He did find out, when they produced a coin with Caesar’s image as God on it rather than Jewish coinage. This demonstrated to observers that these Pharisees had already “sold out” to Caesar. So, he stated: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s,” i.e., the hypocritical Pharisees themselves. Perhaps that is why all were amazed as Jesus turned the tables on them.

This year many people are feeling especially troubled about praying for peace, and paying for war. Yet, many do not seem to be aware that in the U.S., income from most municipal bonds is free of federal taxes. Harry and I wrote a handout flyer for consciousness-raising activities on April 15 about taxes and war. Over 30 percent of federal tax money goes for war, or preparations for war. We laud those who live under the taxable level. Municipal bonds offer another option for those concerned about how their federal tax dollars are spent. It is not too soon for those who have jobs to start putting any spare cash into tax-free municipal bonds so that down the road they will be able to support life-enhancing rather than life-destroying activities financially. It is very legal.