Terry Gilliam Renounces U.S. Citizenship to Stop Paying For Wars

Terry Gilliam, Monty Python’s Yankee animator and director of such masterpieces as Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Brazil and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, recently told an interviewer why he renounced his American citizenship to become a taxpatriate:

Mother Jones: In , you renounced your American citizenship to be a full-time Brit. Seems pretty extreme.

Terry Gilliam: Well, I don’t live there. I got tired of my taxes paying for exciting little wars around the world. Then I discovered that when I died, my wife would probably have to sell our house to pay for the taxes in America. The fact that Bush was there made it easier.

Mother Jones: Did you get any shit for your decision?

Terry Gilliam: Not really. It was very funny, ’cause you have to go down to the US Embassy and say, I want out, and then they counsel you and you go away for a month and think on it. And then you come back and they beg you to stay. Sorry!

Mother Jones: They counsel you? What do they say?

Terry Gilliam: Oh nothing, just, “We’re great friends! We love your work! Oh, don’t leave us!” Sorry!

Mother Jones: Is it true that they limit your movement?

Terry Gilliam: Oh yes, I’m on probation. I can’t be in America more than 30 days a year for 10 years.

American anti-abortion activist Jill Stanek thinks that a tax resistance campaign is imminent in the religious right.

Her evidence for this is remarks that James Dobson made on his Focus on the Family radio show, and in something called the “Manhattan Declaration.” Dobson responded to the possibility that publicly-funded abortions might be part of the health care industry bill that Congress is currently considering, by saying:

I don’t say this glibly at all.… Shirley and I will not be able to comply. That is absolutely untenable to us, because it would make us participants in the killing of babies, and we can’t and we won’t do that. Now I don’t know where all of this is leading or what the implications of it are, but if we have to pay ruinous fines, or have to go to prison, or even if we have to leave this beloved country and spend the rest of our lives in exile, that’s what we are prepared to do.

The Manhattan Declaration calls on American Christians to stand up against abortion, gay marriage, and laws that would prohibit right-wing Christians from discriminating against gay people or from applying their pro-life viewpoints in the workplace.

Its call to civil disobedience is boldly but vaguely worded. Stanek thinks it’s a clear call for tax resistance, but to me it is so imprecise in this area that it isn’t really a call to action so much as enthusiastic bluster (much the same as the International People’s Declaration of Peace I panned back in September). But, anyway, this is how the declaration concludes:

As Christians, we take seriously the Biblical admonition to respect and obey those in authority. We believe in law and in the rule of law. We recognize the duty to comply with laws whether we happen to like them or not, unless the laws are gravely unjust or require those subject to them to do something unjust or otherwise immoral. The biblical purpose of law is to preserve order and serve justice and the common good; yet laws that are unjust — and especially laws that purport to compel citizens to do what is unjust — undermine the common good, rather than serve it.

Going back to the earliest days of the church, Christians have refused to compromise their proclamation of the gospel. In Acts 4, Peter and John were ordered to stop preaching. Their answer was, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Through the centuries, Christianity has taught that civil disobedience is not only permitted, but sometimes required. There is no more eloquent defense of the rights and duties of religious conscience than the one offered by Martin Luther King, Jr., in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Writing from an explicitly Christian perspective, and citing Christian writers such as Augustine and Aquinas, King taught that just laws elevate and ennoble human beings because they are rooted in the moral law whose ultimate source is God Himself. Unjust laws degrade human beings. Inasmuch as they can claim no authority beyond sheer human will, they lack any power to bind in conscience. King’s willingness to go to jail, rather than comply with legal injustice, was exemplary and inspiring.

Because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family. We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s. But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.

I can certainly see how someone already inclined toward seeing tax resistance as the next step in their anti-abortion activism might feel that this statement supports their decision, but I have a hard time seeing the statement as an unambiguous call for tax refusal. There’s nothing in the Declaration site’s FAQ or What’s Next sections about taxes either. Even Stanek herself never actually comes right out and says that she is resisting taxes or plans to.