This is the twenty-third in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of Gospel Herald, journal of the (Old) Mennonite Church.
Here’s how Larry Cornies of the Gospel Herald reported on the negotiations between the General Conference Mennonite Church and the IRS (the Mennonite Church, with which Gospel Herald was associated, was supporting the General Conference action but from a bit of a distance):
Representatives of the General Conference Mennonite Church and the Internal Revenue Service failed to reach an 11th-hour compromise at a meeting in Washington on which would have averted a suit by the 63,000-member denomination against the government agency.
IRS officials at the meeting denied that there was any administrative solution to the conference’s complaint that it must withhold the income taxes of its employees, thereby acting as a tax collector for the state. The denomination has argued, and will argue in a forthcoming judicial action, that the IRS requirement violates the concept of separation of church and state as embodied in the First Amendment in the U.S. Constitution.
“The 45-minute meeting was cordial, but unproductive,” said Vem Preheim, general secretary for the conference. “We outlined our concerns about the withholding issue as a historic peace church and described the problem which the IRS requirement poses for us.”
William Ball, the conference’s attorney in the matter, then formally asked members of the IRS’s special working group on withholding issues whether there was any way to exempt the General Conference from the problematic requirement.
Nancy Schuhmann, who chairs the special group, stated that the IRS must abide by its codes of operation and would not be able to offer an exemption on tax withholding to the conference. IRS officials Susan Cunningham and Gail Libin were also present for the discussions.
In light of the results of the meeting, attorney Ball will complete the preparation of the conference complaint and submit the brief to a U.S. district court after one last check to make sure all administrative possibilities have been exhausted.
The General Conference’s General Board was authorized to initiate a judicial action on the tax withholding question at an international gathering of the conference membership at Estes Park, Colo., in .
More than a year earlier, on , delegates to a special midtriennium conference session instructed the General Board to “use all legal, legislative, and administrative avenues for achieving[”] conscientious objector exemption to the tax withholding requirement.
John J. Hostetter, Jr. attacked the new war tax resistance craze in a commentary titled “Render unto Caesar”:
In the , issue of the Gospel Herald, the forms of protest on nuclear weaponry advocated by MCC, Peace Section, include the following, “We call for acts of tax resistance to be undertaken since our federal income taxes fuel the arms race. We suggest giving funds denied for use in building nuclear weapons to groups working for peace and disarmament, and to groups meeting human needs.”
Such statements are damaging and completely misleading. It gives the impression to the uninformed that an option for taxpayers is withholding part of their tax liability and sending it somewhere of their own choosing. Rather, the choice is whether one pays his tax or whether he pays his tax plus penalty and interest. The only other possibility at present is fraud for deliberately not reporting income, which is even more serious.
Pick and choose from the budget? Most ethical and religious protestors base their action on the notion that one can pick and choose in the budgetary items of the government, as a shopper at a department store. It is implied that taxes are a voluntary contribution to the government by its citizens and therefore, if they don’t like the way the money is spent, they can withhold the part of the contribution they don’t like.
The courts have long ago settled this also. There is a classic quotation from Judge Learned Hand, “Over and over again courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging one’s affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich and poor, and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands; taxes are enforced exactions, not voluntary contributions.”
While one can so arrange his affairs to pay as little as possible within the law, this does not imply the right to pay the part one likes and refuse the rest any more than one can dictate how the groceryman uses the money paid for groceries. Once the tax liability is assessed, it is no longer the taxpayer’s money. Otherwise very few would pay any taxes since we all feel we have better ways to spend money than the way the government spends it.
Some object to the defense budget, while others feel just as strongly about the welfare program. Although far less than one tenth of one percent of church people protest taxes to the point of refusing to voluntarily pay all of their taxes without confiscation, yet probably a high percentage of Christians as well as non-Christians would opt to send their tax money to a “Peace Fund” were that option available. At present it is not. Perhaps in the future the Congress may grant such an election in much the same way that taxpayers can direct $1 of their taxes to the presidential election campaign. Even if such were possible, it wouldn’t change the size of the budget for defense.
In the Waitzkin case of , the court said that conscientious objectors couldn’t withhold 50 percent of their tax on the basis of “war crimes” deduction. Neither religious beliefs nor international law relieve citizens of tax liability. Tax is neutral on religious matters and is imposed on all citizens, even though each may object to some specific governmental expenditure on religious grounds.
Likewise in the McDade case, the “war crimes” deduction was disallowed. The taxpayer’s belief that the government shouldn’t force its citizens to participate in taking of lives didn’t relieve her of an obligation to pay tax. In another case, the taxpayer’s deduction for “conscientious objection to military expenditures” was denied and the negligence penalty imposed. Military protest deduction wasn’t permitted under the code. Taxpayer lacked standing to contest military expenditures of the government. (Reimer) In the Van Tol case, the war tax credit was denied; sincerity of the taxpayer’s objection to war didn’t excuse the tax liability.
The government gets the money. A few observations could be made. First, such protestations, as sincere as they are, are not accomplishing what may be the desire of the protest, in that the government ends up with more, not less, money for undesirable purposes as a result of the protest. Not only will the tax be collected, but penalty and interest as well. (The average increase is $207 for penalty alone.)
Second, in the case of war or defense, not one cent less will be spent for bullets, bombs, or battleships because of the protest. Tax money which we might earmark for Cambodian Relief, as good as that might be, only means other money out of the same treasury is used for what the Congress believes is necessary for national defense, and if that is not enough, the government will simply borrow what it needs. One who thinks that such a fund will change the size of national defense has only a superficial method of salving his conscience.
Third, Internal Revenue agents, with (against) whom I have worked, openly joke at such protest tactics. Regardless of the agents’ own personal views on the use of tax money, which all citizens agree leaves much to be desired, they as public servants must go and collect the tax whether it is from an impoverished taxpayer, a religious protestor, or a fraudulent evader. Thus all that is accomplished is a reduction in efficiency and an increase in the cost of collection in the tax system. The Revenue Service doesn’t make the laws; Congress does. A much more valid approach is correspondence with those in Congress responsible for the present law and who have the power to change it. Certainly the revenue agents have no jurisdiction over setting up the national budget.
Internal Revenue agents deserve our respect. They are, with some exceptions, well trained and conscientious, doing a job necessary to insure compliance and integrity in the tax system. (After all, Jesus selected one as one of his disciples. While he wasn’t the star of the show, he certainly wasn’t the villain either.)
It would be interesting to know what percentage of church people have ever written to their congressman expressing their concern on militarism. The percentage would probably increase if names and addresses of congressmen were available on church bulletin boards with sample letters for those who want some positive ways to express their concerns.
I cringe when reports come out in the paper of tax protestors who have been convicted of tax evasion on religious grounds with a byline that they are Mennonites, with the implied impression that this is a belief of such churches. Mennonites do not believe that. Editors of newspapers and periodicals should be corrected when it is implied. The vast majority of Christians believe such a stance to be unscriptural teaching.
This prompted a series of letters to the editor in response:
- Vernon Schmidt ()
- Generally approved of Hotstetter’s article, but didn’t add anything notable to the debate.
- Lee H. Kanagy ()
- Called Hotstetter’s opinion “a good antidote to the poisons of resisting our government and advocating withholding certain taxes.”
- Harvey M. Zimmerman ()
- Called Hotstetter’s commentary “a breath of fresh air” and said “the newer viewpoint promoted so much presently is not the historical nor the majority viewpoint of the Mennonite brotherhood.”
- Peter Ediger ()
- “I differ from his assessment that those in our churches who cannot in Christian conscience pay war taxes are ‘simply being contrary.’ That seems to me to be a judgment form the world rather than the Word. I believe that, increasingly, those who have ears to hear will understand that, while it may be contrary to the world, to resist payment of war taxes is being faithful to the Word of God.”
- Hotstetter responds ()
The failure of the General Conference Mennonite Church to reach an agreement with the Internal Revenue Service… should come as no surprise. Furthermore, if the case goes to court the winner can be predicted with a considerable degree of assurance. It will be Attorney Ball in collecting his fee. It is to be hoped that our church does not emulate the unenviable position in which that church now finds itself. It can hardly back down without swallowing its pride and cannot push forward with any hope of success in the untenable stance it is taking. The constituency should scream at using so much funds on such a case.
The requirement of the service to withhold taxes and forward them to the government is nothing new. It has been on the books for more than a generation. If they had not signed the waiver on Social Security taxes, they would have more of a leg to stand on. They can’t have it both ways.
- Ron Flickinger ()
- Felt that even if Hostetter’s arguments were valid, “there is still the conviction, scripturally based, that we must witness to Christ’s way of peace. Our quiet support for the military as we pay our taxes each year is not consistent with that witness.” Says Flickinger: “Christian war tax resisters are basing their actions on Scripture, not on a desire to attract persecution or publicity.”
The issue included an editorial, “As for taxes…”, from Daniel Hertzler. There wasn’t much meat there. It talked around the subject for the most part, though it did mention Hertzler’s own dipping-his-toes-in: “For a time I resisted the telephone tax, but then I gave up. Perhaps I was a little overly impressed by the threatening form letters which began to come from the Internal Revenue Service. Also, tax refusal seemed like a form of revolution. As an orderly Mennonite, revolution is not my style.”
That prompted Art Landis to shoot back in the issue with a letter to the editor taking Hertzler to task for romanticizing earlier generations who “had no compassion for the slave or the prisoner. I believe the state could have constructed concentration camps and gas ovens next to their meetinghouses and they would not have protested.”
Hubert Schwartzentruber worried that the much-fought-over statements of policy on Mennonite peacemaking might prove to be pyrrhic victories, in his discussion of the "Peacemaking" statement approved at the General Assembly:
Good statements can have a reverse and negative effect… The statement can serve to immunize us and keep us from action. We have resolved our guilt by preparing another statement. This statement calls for a radical change of lifestyle. Guilt and inner conflict are not as easily laid aside as this statement might indicate. Wrestling with the complex issues of peace does not successfully reduce inner conflict. What would really happen if “the old self that lives for self dies”? We call into judgment economic systems that keep millions poor when we ourselves are very deeply rooted in that economic system. We denounce wars, but no consensus can be reached regarding applying the same biblical understanding to paying for the hardware of war as we have for giving of our bodies for war.
[A]t Bowling Green when a brother expressed his concern over the assembly’s failure to deal with the question of obedience as it relates to payment of taxes for war. Even though long discussion followed, business proceeded very much as usual…
The question that comes to my mind is whether we indeed should make statements such as these when we know well enough that the very structures of our institutions would be shattered if we attempted to live out the text of the statement.
This news came from the issue:
Responding to Seattle Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen’s call for a tax revolt against the nuclear arms race, Lutheran pacifists have urged co-religionists to join the protest, redirecting the money to the poor. “We shall act on Bishop Hunthausen’s encouragement to resist a percentage of our federal income tax that is symbolic of allocations made to the military,” said the New York-based Lutheran Peace Fellowship, an independent intra-Lutheran group which works with the International Fellowship of Reconciliation.
“We will no longer offer our tax dollars for a nuclear military that affronts the lordship of Jesus. Instead, we choose to redirect resisted tax dollars to the poor of our country and of our world.”
Conscientious tax resisters who were hoping the courts would find a place for them in the U.S. Constitution were disappointed (Levi Miller reporting):
Amish employers and employees cannot invoke their religious beliefs to avoid paying Social Security and federal unemployment taxes, the Supreme Court ruled on .
The unanimous decision overturned a western Pennsylvania judge’s ruling that forcing the Amish to pay such taxes violates their freedom of religion.
Chief Justice Warren E. Burger said, “The design of the [Social Security] system requires support by mandatory contributions from covered employers and employees.”
The controversy arose when the internal Revenue Service informed Edwin Lee, an Old Order Amish carpenter from Lawrence County, Pa., that he owed some $27,000 in back taxes. Lee had not paid any Social Security taxes for himself or his employees since . He also had not withheld such taxes.
It was noted in the ruling that Congress has already provided for a tax exemption that covers self-employed Amish, such as farmers. The Amish believe that the church and the family should take care of the elderly and do not withdraw the government funds at old age.
John A. Hostetler, a professor at Temple University and member of the Plains Mennonite Church, commented on the ruling by saying that although “it is a blow for religious liberty in general, in the long run it is better for the Amish to pay it. If they were exempt, it would create jealousy.”
Hostetler said he did not know how many of these small shops would be involved. “It will mean more paperwork for them,” he concluded.
A follow-up by Phil Shenk explained the consequences for war tax resisters:
The U.S. Supreme Court indirectly referred to the issue of war tax resistance and the World Peace Tax Fund in its ruling, denying an Amish employer exemption from paying and collecting Social Security taxes.
The unanimous decision, plus the arguments employed by the court, may also have diminished the prospects for success in the General Conference Mennonite Church’s case asking for an employer’s exemption from collecting federal-military income taxes for the government.
In the Amish case, Amishman Edwin Lee had refused to withhold Social Security taxes from his Amish employees’ paychecks and failed to pay the employer’s share of their Social Security taxes, claiming that doing so would violate his and his employees’ First Amendment rights to the free exercise of religion. Lee said the Amish believe it is sinful not to provide for their elderly and needy themselves and therefore are opposed to the national social security system.
Unlike the celebrated case, in which the Supreme Court granted the Amish an exemption from Wisconsin’s compulsory school-attendance law based on their free exercise of religion rights, the Supreme Court here held that the government’s interest should overrule the religious rights of the individual because it would be difficult for the Social Security system to accommodate the “myriad exceptions flowing from a wide variety of religious beliefs.”
In ruling that Amishman Lee’s First Amendment religious rights must “yield to the common good,” the Supreme Court raised the issue of conscientious objectors’ refusal to pay taxes that go for what the court called “war-related activities.” The court said it could not see any difference between Lee’s refusal to pay Social Security taxes and the position of one who refuses to pay war taxes.
“If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax.”
The problem with this, the court said, is that “[t]he tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge the tax system because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief.”
In a very broad statement that implicitly referred to religious conscientious objection to federal-military income taxes as well as Social Security taxes, the court revealed its basic rule: “Because the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such a high order, religious belief in conflict with the payment of taxes affords no basis for resisting the tax.”
The court did recognize that Congress has passed a constitutionally sound law that exempts Amish who are self-employed from paying Social Security taxes. But it held that taxes imposed on employers “must be uniformly applicable to all, except as Congress provides explicitly otherwise.” Because Congress has not exempted Amish employers or their employees from Social Security taxes, the court refused to honor their religious rights over the interests of the nation as a whole.
Before Congress, in the proposed World Peace Tax Fund legislation, is explicit language that would “exempt” conscientious objectors from paying war taxes and instead divert their taxes to peaceful governmental activities. If passed, this might provide the authority the court has implied it needs before it will honor the rights of war tax objectors.
A Mennonite lawyer, John Yoder, is working as one of several assistants to Chief Justice Burger, the author of the opinion striking down Amishman Lee’s free exercise of religion rights. Burger’s Mennonite aide is originally from Hesston, Kan.
The decision was so gratuitously dismissive of conscientious tax refusal that the General Conference Mennonite Church decided to halt its legal action, on :
In the light of a negative judgment rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court against an Amish employer on , the General Conference’s judicial action committee has recommended to the denomination’s General Board that a planned suit against the IRS on the issue of tax withholding “be put on indefinite hold.” The committee’s decision came at the end of a conference call with William Ball, who has been preparing the case on behalf of the church group over the past year. During the telephone meeting, Ball indicated that, considering the Supreme Court ruling in the case IRS vs. Lee, the General Conference would almost certainly lose its case.
In a cover story in the issue Donald B. Kraybill proposed some ideas on what to do about the threat of nuclear war. Idea #10 was “Refuse to pay some of your federal income taxes as a witness to your faith. If you’re scared, try a small amount like $7.77. If that’s too scary, at least send a letter describing the difficulty of praying for peace and paying for war. Those who pay taxes without sending such a letter are quietly condoning and supporting the nuclear arms buildup.”
Raymond Hunthausen’s war tax resistance, which had been alluded to earlier, was covered in a brief note:
Seattle Archbishop Raymond G. Hunthausen announced that he will withhold half of his income tax to protest “our nation’s continuing involvement in the race for nuclear arms supremacy.”
“As Christians imbued with the spirit of peacemaking expressed by the Lord in the Sermon on the Mount, we must find ways to make known our objections to the present concentration on further nuclear arms buildup,” the archbishop told 300 peace activists attending a meeting at Notre Dame University.
In the issue, Ivan H. Stoltzfus felt compelled to write in to explain “Why I pay taxes.” The standard set of bible verses were deployed to explain that worldly goods are at the disposal of worldly governments; Rome’s government was no better than ours, so Paul’s advice in Romans 13 still holds; besides, it’s impossible to determine what percentage of your taxes are objectionable, so you might as well pay the whole thing. Still, Stoltzfus wrote, if there were a Peace Tax Fund law, he’d go along with it.
Rob Sauder, in the issue, pointed out that it’s silly to act as though when Jesus gave his “Render unto Caesar” answer he was merely saying “yes: pay all your taxes.” After all, that’s not how his interrogators interpreted it at the time.
Another Catholic war tax resister was in the news in that issue:
A senate of priests in Iowa has voted to support a Catholic lay minister who refuses to pay his federal income taxes as a protest against the nuclear arms race.
The resolution approved by the representative group of priests in the Dubuque Catholic archdiocese says they commend Tom Cordaro and St. Thomas Aquinas parish at Ames for their courageous stand relative to the payment of taxes for military and nuclear armaments.
Mr. Cordaro, 27, has held back most of his income taxes because he believes it would be a sin to contribute money for nuclear weapons. The parish council at St. Thomas Aquinas has refused to honor an order by the Internal Revenue Service to turn over Mr. Cordaro’s wages to satisfy the $828 tax debt.
Dan E. Hoellwarth made another attempt to defang Romans 13 in the issue. According to him, the description of government in that chapter should be seen as prescriptive, not descriptive, and is meant to restrict which sorts of governments Christians owe allegiance to: “what if the leaders are not acting in accordance with Scripture?” “Obviously we should pay taxes… However…”
The Catholic war tax resisters were back again in the issue:
The Catholic peace advocate Daniel Berrigan says he will take the church’s anti-nuclear arms movement seriously “when we have a few bishops in jail.[”] Berrigan, who is appealing a 3–10 year prison sentence for breaking into a Pennsylvania nuclear plant, spoke to some 200 students and faculty members at Fordham University.
The Jesuit priest said this “unparalleled threat to our survival” has made civil disobedience — such as demonstrations and withholding federal income taxes — a necessary component of the anti-nuclear movement.
He said he was encouraged by the fact that the American church hierarchy no longer engages in “cold-war” rhetoric, and that the peace movement has made some strides. But he added that the church, like the rest of the anti-nuclear movement, has only “moved the diameter of a dime” toward serious opposition to the arms race.
And the Methodists turned up too:
A Methodist pastor and wife in Portland, Oregon, withheld $1500 from their U.S. income taxes. They turned $1,000 of the money into $5 bills and gave them to persons they found in line at the state of Oregon employment service.
According to the United Methodist John and Pat Schwiebert “clipped [a note] to each $5 bill explaining that the couple was withholding a portion of their tax ‘because we cannot in good conscience do nothing while income we have earned is used by our government to plan and carry out the killing of human beings…’ ”
Linda & Titus Peachey penned a poignant reflection on the still-ongoing bloodshed and destruction caused by the American war in Southeast Asia for the issue:
After nearly a year in Laos, we feel a bit of fire brewing in our bones. Surely, we think, the church can offer an alternative and a “no” to the militarism and violence that is increasingly manifested around the world. Surely we have a responsibility to end such suffering. Yet, as we turn to our church papers (which we read avidly even though they arrive 4 to 5 months late) we find that much of the discussion on peacemaking, including war-tax resistance, seems to focus on the interpretation of certain biblical passages. While it is important that these passages shape our thoughts and direct our lives, it seems that too much time is spent fine-tuning favorite arguments in comfortable, safe settings, far removed from the cries of those who suffer. We wonder, for example, how well our arguments would stand up if the bombing which occurred in many areas of Laos had instead destroyed our own communities in Kansas, Ohio, or Manitoba.
The oil lamps burned late into the night when we visited the village. The day before a Lao woman, the mother of 11 children, was killed when her hoe struck a small anti-personnel bomblet that had buried itself under a root in her garden. The bomblet, one of hundreds which still litter the soil, had been dropped 10 to 15 years ago… Looking at the depression left in the soil by the explosion, the hoe fragment, and the saddened eyes of the 10-year-old daughter, we wondered who would own this family’s grief… who would answer for this woman’s death?
The answer, we fear, is no one. Indeed the United States has created a military system which can kill in such a way that no one need feel guilty. Certainly no one in America, army general or taxpayer, will be accused of plotting the death of this peasant woman. No international court will bring bomb manufacturing companies to trial. Even to know which pilot dropped that particular bomblet some ten years ago would be impossible. Thus we have created death without a murderer.
Are we really so clever? Have we finally outwitted God, who would come and ask, “Where is Abel, your brother?” Indeed, if God should come and ask, would he not find us all guilty?
Of course, we as historic peace churches have often tried to separate ourselves from our nation’s militaristic policies, to be a people with a different identity. To some extent we have succeeded. The very fact that Mennonite Central Committee is allowed to be in Laos is in large measure due to the fact that we, as Mennonites, did not fight as U.S. soldiers in Indochina.
Nevertheless, how clean are we? Are our self-perceptions of innocence realistic? Or have we been lured into a giant game of guilt evasion whose players include Pentagon officials and common folk alike? While we ourselves have not worn a soldier’s uniform, have not our taxes and our silence helped to build weapons systems and to pay the salaries of those who fight? Though we have espoused love and peace, could any of us stand before that peasant woman’s family and state with assurance that we did not contribute to the making of the weapon that killed her?
Thus, the presence of the shattered family in Muong Kham or the “cave dwellers” in Sam Neua is disquieting to our spirits — the links between our tax money and their suffering are too strong to ignore. The option of war tax resistance then seems not like a matter for debate, but the next logical step for all Christians who would work for peace in the world.
Perhaps many of you will disagree with us that withholding taxes is a faithful part of peacemaking. May we plead however that before final judgments are made, you listen to the voices of those hurt by our violence? Standing close to them, we need to respond with compassion. What will we say? What will we do?
A letter to the editor from Robin Lowery followed: “They [the Peacheys] seem to base their conclusion on the experience of those they dialogued with rather than on what God our Father says to us through the Bible,” Lowery wrote. “It is a dangerous thing to base our faith on experience and feelings.” We shouldn’t expect governments to live up to Christian principles. Our worldly life is only temporary; we are guests here and live under worldly rules temporarily. “War is a horrible thing, but even more terrible is the judgment waiting for those who would oppose God and what he has put in place.”
A letter to the editor from the Peacheys complained that their original article had been severely edited:
As edited by Gospel Herald, our article seemed to imply that all true peacemakers will engage in war-tax resistance. Certainly we were urging Christians to seriously consider making some type of witness with their tax return. Our original article acknowledged, however, that this could take many forms. Some people may choose to live with an income below the taxable level while others may wish to enclose a letter of concern with their tax return. Some may withhold a symbolic amount while others withhold all of their taxes.
Yet, none of these actions can be the whole of peacemaking. Rather, as we stressed in our original submission, peacemaking is a total way of life which embraces our troublesome next-door neighbor as well as those whom our country defines as “enemy.” Further, as we seek to prevent suffering caused by North American militarism, we must also turn to those in our communities who have been cut off from help by our nation’s preoccupation with defense “needs.”
Finally, all of our actions must spring from our Christian faith. We cannot work for peace out of guilt or a desire for personal innocence. Instead, what we do, we do joyfully as a positive witness to life, to wholeness, and to our faith in God who loves all people, irrespective of human barriers.
And Titus Peachey also wrote a follow-up article. Here is an excerpt that touches on war tax resistance:
The U.S. asks neither for our consent or direct physical participation to send weapons around the world such as the cluster bombs which were dropped in Laos. It requires only our dollars and our silence. Can we continue to give our government what it needs to make wars, and then serve the victims of its violence with a clear conscience? Can we still claim to be nonresistant if that violence was committed in defense of our way of life in another part of the world?
Some of us felt that the shovels provided to Lao farmers in Xieng Khouang should be purchased with money which Mennonites withheld from their taxes, thereby making the connection between our nation’s militarism and the victims of war. While some of the shovels were indeed purchased with the Taxes for Peace Fund, many people cited legal, theological, and practical problems with taking such an action.
From our vantage point in Laos, we admittedly worry more about the theological, human, and practical problems of inaction. Can we find common ground for a strong, unified, Mennonite peace witness which deals more directly with our nation’s defense budget, arms sales, and military aid?
The Peacheys’ story was evidently persuasive enough that the MCC war tax redirection fund administrators decided to donate some of the redirected taxes to bomb clearance in Laos:
MCC has spent over $10,000 to purchase and ship about 1,200 shovels to Laos, and $4,000 of that amount was allocated from MCC’s “Taxes for Peace” fund. This “Taxes for Peace” fund was established in to receive contributions from church members who had voluntarily withheld portions of their taxes as a symbolic protest against the government’s excessive spending for military purposes.
“Since people withheld this money so that it could be used for peace instead of war, we feel it especially appropriate that these dollars be used to help clear the land of Laos of bomblets made and dropped by Americans,” explains John Stoner, executive secretary of MCC U.S. Peace Section.
Canadian Mennonites wanted to get in on the act, according to this account:
What is the meaning of conscientious objection to war in Canada today, and how does this relate to the support of Canadian military industries and armed forces activities? That is the focus of a task force on tax support of Canadian military activities. A short document spelling out proposed goals and research tasks of this group was mailed to each of the conferences earlier this year asking for more guidance or support, perhaps after discussion at their annual meetings. The initial work of this task force is being coordinated by the Peace and Social Concerns office of MCC (Canada).
War tax resisters continued to have tough luck in U.S. courts, as this showed:
A Rhode Island couple who have refused to pay their federal income taxes as a way of demonstrating their opposition to military spending have lost their fight with the U.S. Internal Revenue Service. The United States Tax Court in Washington has not only ordered Kevin and Linda Regan to pay $4,138 in back taxes and $206 in interest for , but it has also slapped the couple with a $500 fine for having “wasted” the government’s time and money on “frivolous” actions. Although the decision was reached , the IRS office here only announced it .
Keith Johnson, an IRS public affairs officer, said the agency was publicizing the Tax Court decision because the Regans had been the subject of a long Providence Journal-Bulletin story in which the couple attempted to justify their nonpayment of taxes on religious and moral grounds. In the interview, the Regans argued that the arms race contradicted the Christian belief against the taking of human life. “What we were presented with were taxpayers who were saying they could withhold tax payments on moral grounds,” Mr. Johnson said. “This is an argument that neither the IRS, nor the courts, accept.”
Finally, a letter to the editor from Weldon Nisly emphasized the parallel between conscientious objection to the draft and conscientious objection to military taxation:
May we all have the faith and courage to stand with these young men of conscience facing draft registration. It is indeed a difficult moment and decision they and their families face. But it is not just they who face the demands of the powers in our country and time. We all face a parallel decision in a direct way with the demand for tax money to finance the Pentagon’s headlong plunge toward death and destruction of all God’s creation and creatures. The painful question of faith we ail face is will we contribute to and cooperate with that demand of the powers or will we choose to place our trust in God alone?