Will a Judge Give U.S. War Tax Resisters a “Peace Tax” Compromise?

For some time now there have been difficult-to-substantiate rumors that conscientious objectors to military taxation in Italy have been redirecting their taxes from the military to non-violent civil defense organizations without a “Peace Tax” law in place, but with the approval of judges who accepted their conscientious objection and their sincere efforts to pay their taxes in a way that does not violate their beliefs.

Now there are signs that a method of conscientious objection to military taxation may sneak in to the United States in a similar judicial back-door fashion.

Leo J. Volpe was a conscientious objector during World War Ⅱ who was convicted of draft evasion in . He and three other Jehovah’s Witnesses unsuccessfully claimed that they, and all Jehovah’s Witnesses, were “Ministers of Religion” and therefore exempt from military service. In , Volpe also stopped paying federal income tax. He spent four months in prison in after being convicted of tax evasion.

Volpe later founded his own small religious group, now known as The Restored Israel of YAHWEH, in which he played the part of an incarnation of the prophet Jeremiah and spent a lot of time speculating about the End Times. The mysterious number 666, for instance, is a cipher combining the names “United States America,” “Union Soviet Socialist Russia” and “Pope Paul.”

Conscientious objection and war tax resistance are among the tenets of Volpe’s group:

Because we know that federal income tax pays for war and the Almighty GOD clearly states “thou shalt not kill,” we cannot in good conscience pay a tax that we know goes to kill and fight against other people whose lives were also given to them by YAHWEH, people who Yahshua the Messiah gave his life for. The Restored Israel of YAHWEH understands the heinous crimes being committed in all the earth. We understand the atrocities being committed under the guise of democracy and freedom and often in the name of GOD and we must separate ourselves from this. This stand has been taken in our organization since when our founder, mentor and spiritual leader, Leo J. Volpe, after much research, stopped paying federal income tax because he did not want the blood of those killed in warfare on his hands. The u.s. tax laws violate YAHWEH’S laws and must therefore be considered void.

In a former member, rattled by news coverage of the Branch Davidian massacre in Waco, left the group and ratted them out to the IRS. In , three members of the group were arrested and charged with “conspiring to defraud the United States for the purpose of impeding, impairing, obstructing, and defeating the lawful government functions of the IRS in ascertaining, computing, assessing, and collecting taxes; Tax Evasion; and Failure to File Tax Returns.”

The two men ran a construction business, and Inge Donato was the bookkeeper. While they cooperated with state and local tax laws and filed appropriately for employees who were not members of the society, for those who refuse to pay war taxes the company honored their consciences and did not withhold taxes.

They were convicted , and are due to be sentenced . According to a defense lawyer with a war tax resistance specialty, “to my knowledge these are the first war tax resisters ever to be convicted of ‘conspiracy to defraud the US’ and ‘attempted tax evasion.’ ”

Something interesting happened last week at the sentencing hearing. The same defense lawyer called it an “amazing day in court,” and wrote:

We argued about various issues for nearly 5 hrs and judge recessed until without a sentencing decision. By the end of the day, Judge had conceded our clients were religiously motivated and sincere, although perhaps not perfectly consistent and altruistic. And the last thing he did was ask the govt if they would consider “compromising” the case by zeroing out the defendant’s past tax liabilities if they would agree to pay a large fine (i.e., equal amount), because fines are directed not to the General Fund of the Treasury (and thus largely to the military) but rather directly to a Crime Victims Assistance program. We were flabbergasted — a true suggestion of creative accommodation, coming in a criminal case from a federal judge!

The prosecution and IRS agreed that they would consider the idea. On , the judge will consider whatever they come up with and will make his own decision.

It’s certainly possible, even likely, that the prosecution agreed to consider the judge’s proposal out of tactical politeness but that they will not actually be willing to support something so unusual. On the other hand, they may see this as a win-win and let it slip through, especially since otherwise the defendants are likely to resist any remaining taxes and penalties with the same righteous vigor with which they resisted the taxation in the first place.

See for an update on this case.