War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2006

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

Some Quaker war tax resisters of the past and present made appearances in the Friends Journal in .

Another article on George and Lillian Willoughby, in the issue, mentioned how early American Quakers had been sensitive to the issue of war taxes:

In colonial America, tremendous pressure was exerted on Penn and other Quakers to support militias, to provision the British army, to pay taxes for unexplained uses that might well turn out to be military expeditions. Governing a large colony (Pennsylvania) in which Quakers were a minority, and in which the majority wanted protection from Indian attacks, forced further compromises. Only with the advent of John Woolman, who with others sent a letter to the Pennsylvania assembly concerning a royal levy, [a portion of the PDF is illegible at this point] -tion of Christ and Fox. As reported by Peter Brock in his The Quaker Peace Testimony, , it states in part:

And being painfully apprehensive that the large sum granted by the… Assembly for the King’s use is principally intended for purposes inconsistent with our peaceable testimony, we therefore think that as we cannot be concerned in wars and fightings, so neither ought we to contribute thereto by paying the tax directly by the said act, though suffering be the consequence of our refusal.

Despite the influence of John Woolman and Anthony Benezet, Friends remained divided on the question of “rendering unto Caesar” that which “Caesar” claimed.

The Willoughbys, the article said, “have acted on their beliefs — through war tax refusal” and other means.

An obituary notice for Louis E. Jones in that issue noted that among the ways he “championed Friends causes” was by “for many years avoiding paying federal income tax, instead contributing to charitable causes.… He served as Downers Grove Meeting’s treasurer for many years, giving him the opportunity to witness against war taxes in the form of refusing war/excise tax for phone service.”

A retrospective on the life and work of the pacifist activist A.J. Muste in the issue noted:

Throughout , he often faced jail and prosecution for refusing to pay income taxes (he constantly followed the dictates of the Quaker John Woolman, who insisted that “The spirit of truth required of me as an individual to suffer patiently the distress of goods, rather than pay actively”)…

That same issue also noted that the Quaker Council for European Affairs planned to “present a resolution, under Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights on Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion, to the Council of Europe” that would enshrine a “right for individual taxpayers to direct a portion of their taxes away from military uses and towards peace-building, international development, and other alternatives to war.” The note mentioned the difficulties with the resolution: “1) the state’s need to maintain a uniform tax system is deemed more important than designing a tax system through which some taxes are diverted for conscientious objection, and 2) in the absence of legislation that allows for the diversion of taxes away from military purposes, the courts have no power to rule in favor of peace tax protestors.”

That issue also noted that the American Friends Service Committee had nominated Ghassan Andoni for the Nobel Peace Prize, and mentioned that “[d]uring the First Intifada, , Andoni was an active participant in Beit Sahour’s tax resistance.”

An obituary for Glenn S. Mallison in the issue noted that “[d]uring the Vietnam War, he refused entry to IRS agents who confronted [his] family’s refusal to pay phone taxes.”

The issue reported that “New York Yearly Meeting approved a statement against paying for war.”:

The following minute was approved at their Spring Business Sessions on : “The Living Spirit works to give joy, peace, and prosperity through love, integrity, and compassionate justice among people. We are united in this Power. We acknowledge that paying for war violates our religious conviction. We will witness to this religious conviction in each of our communities.” This statement reflects Quakers’ steadfast testimony that any participation in war, including payment of taxes for war, is a violation of our faith. By compelling support of war-making through taxation, our government and political leaders have forced many people of faith to subordinate God’s Word to the dictates of the state. The statement seeks to uphold a foundational principle of our nation that freedom to practice our religious faith is a matter of moral imperative, and is not dependent upon the grace of rights or privileges granted by the legislature.

For nearly 350 years, members of the Religious Society of Friends have upheld a testimony of peace and nonviolence that embodies the belief that God’s spirit, present in every person, empowers all of us to resolve disputes without resorting to the machinery of war. Quakers, Mennonites, and people of other faiths came to the New World to escape persecutions in Europe for their religious convictions. The work of these “peace churches” in the United States eventually led to the legal recognition of the right of all persons not to be forced into military service in violation of their conscience. To date, however, the United States government has failed to respect the right of religious conscience, recognized by the First Amendment’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, not to be compelled to support war through the collection of taxes.

The U.S. Congress has before it legislation introduced by Congressman John Lewis of Georgia and supported by 35 Representatives… (the “Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill”) that would provide conscientious objectors [subject] to military taxation with an option. Individuals who establish a sincere religious objection would have their tax payments directed towards nonviolent and life-affirming means for protecting and promoting national security, consistent with their faith. Until that time, many Quakers and others are being forced to choose between being faithful to their religious convictions and being in compliance with our federal tax laws.

“As a religious body, we cannot in good conscience support war, and we have borne that witness for over 350 years,” said Christopher Sarnmond, general secretary of New York Yearly Meeting. “We are clear that violence only begets more violence, in a neverending cycle of horror that diminishes all humankind. Being required to pay almost half our taxes to support war-making is a violation of our religious convictions, and we will be seeking ways to redress this, individually and corporately.”

In an op-ed in the issue, Stan Becker used his column inches to present the dilemma of Quakers paying for the Iraq War and other such militarism. He asserted that “[V]ery few Friends have been able to conscientiously refuse to pay the military portion of their income tax and succeeded in doing so” because “[t]he Internal Revenue Service simply does what is necessary to get its monies.” The option of “living below the taxable income level,” he insisted, “is nearly impossible as well.”

To the rescue is “the Peace Tax Fund legislation that would allow pacifists to have their taxes used only for nonmilitary purposes.” Meanwhile, he suggested that Friends calculate how much of their time and money is going to pay for war and try to counterbalance this with some peace-minded donations.

Nadine Hoover had an article in the same issue in which she mentioned her frustrations at trying to forward the cause of war tax resistance in the New York Yearly Meeting:

In , a member of Peace Concerns Committee of New York Yearly Meeting approached me outside the auditorium at yearly meeting: “We were talking in committee today about how we are being prepared for something, something historic. We don’t know what it is, but we feel ready! We thought of asking people and your name came up. What do you sense we are being prepared for?”

The answer was laid upon me in that instant. I replied: “Don’t ask the question if you’re not prepared to yield. Our dear Friend Sandra Cronk warned us of the dis-ease that settles in when we think we are ready but, when the Light comes, we refuse to yield. You really do not want to know the answer.”

“Yes, yes! We do. We really do. We’re ready.”

“Okay.” I said, “It’s a corporate conviction against paying for war.”

He paled and said, “Oh, no. That may be a bit too much.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. You wanted an historic action that would not change your life. Well, let me see…”

He smiled.

That was the end of that conversation…


Seven years after that conversation, New York Yearly Meeting approved a statement of faith testifying to the Power of the Living Spirit and acknowledging that paying for war violates our religious conviction. This statement not only reaffirms our Peace Testimony, but shifts from supporting or encouraging individual acts of conscience to claiming a corporate testimony laid upon all of us. U.S. courts have rejected cases on war tax resistance saying they cannot accommodate individuals, but the courts may not say no so easily to an entire religious body.