Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1973

This is the twentieth in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today we reach 1973.

The Paris Peace Accord is about to be signed, beginning the eventual withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. Will the growing war tax resistance movement in the General Conference Mennonite Church be able to sustain its momentum as anti-war urgency slackens?

The Mennonite

Of all the varieties of tax resistance, the pay-taxes-but-complain method seems the least likely to satisfy or impress. But some people do seem to like it. For example, a letter from Sem and Mabel Sutter to the Commissioner of the IRS, dated explained that they were paying “the two-thirds of our federal income tax which is budgeted for military purposes… under protest.” Because “the money is already in your hands in the form of withholding tax, we have no recourse but to pay it, while stating that it violates our conscience to do so.” The typical complaints about “the wholesale destruction of human life” and the opportunity costs of military spending followed, along with a patient explanation of the Mennonite point of view on “resistance to war.” Finally the letter concluded that “until such time as legislative provision is made for conscientious objection to war tax, we shall pay our tax under protest.”

The issue included a letter from Steven G. Schmidt. Similarly anguished about the Vietnam War, he suggested something a bit stronger than paying-under-protest:

I would like to suggest one further action to people who follow Christ and to people who believe in God. Income tax money is due soon. Most of that money will go to disrupt and destroy lives. Perhaps church people would serve God best by sending this money to nonmilitary agencies or to local charities or the church. I, for one, pledge my support to you — and I know others who do, too. Let me know if we can help you in any way, for it takes courage to follow conscience.

As Joshua put it (24:15), “Choose ye this day whom you will serve… as for me and my house, we shall serve the Lord.” We at our house have come to believe that putting the money that would have gone to IRS into life-giving investments is serving the Lord.

A letter from David Janzen, dated , hoped to keep the war tax resistance momentum going as the anti-war movement’s urgency was being deflated by the withdrawal of the United States from the Vietnam War:

Tax resistance

Dear [The Mennonite editor] Larry [Kehler]: I have been asked by a number of friends, “Now that the war is over in Vietnam, will you end your war tax resistance?” Since most of my friends read The Mennonite, I wanted to share my answer here, hoping it may be helpful to others.

No, I will not pay the telephone excise tax (now 9 percent); I will do my best to owe no income tax and will refuse to pay whatever I do owe.

I am glad that the United States has finally agreed to withdraw all troops from Vietnam and exchange prisoners with Hanoi, but… the war is not over and U.S. complicity in it has not ended. Our bombers in Indochina have not been brought home, rather they are raining destruction on Cambodia and Laos in in unprecedented levels. The victims of these bombs are not my enemies. Why should they suffer for the sins of their rulers, or mine?

Furthermore, the President has requested a $4.7 billion increase in the Pentagon’s budget, and this in supposed peace time. What is the purpose of all this war spending that consumes 60 cents of every income tax dollar? It is, it seems to me, getting ready to put down with massive violence, the next threat to the American empire, or worse, to win the nuclear showdown of World War Ⅲ. By contributing to this kind of terror politics, I do not demonstrate God’s nature nor bring his peace. So, for the foreseeable future, I plan to reinvest my war taxes into works of mercy.

If anyone wants information on how to refuse taxes for war, even if you are in a withholding situation, write me or War Tax Resistance, 912 E. 31st St., Kansas City, Missouri 64109.

I haven’t really looked into the question of whether Canadians are doing more good than evil by paying their taxes. C.J. Hinke of 918 Center St. South in Whitby, Ontario, is apparently the only open tax resister in Canada, and would be glad to share his reasons with inquirers.

Walton Hackman, executive secretary of the Mennonite Central Committee’s “Peace Section” noted that war tax redirection to support that Section’s work had increased:

Taxes-for-peace fund new channel for witness

During the past year the MCC Peace Section has received $4,000 in contributions made in lieu of tax payments. This was a new phenomenon. In previous years only several hundred dollars were contributed in this way. The contributions were unsolicited; they were made by individuals whose consciences would not allow them to pay taxes which were used for war purposes.

Since a substantial number of individuals from the MCC constituency are looking for an alternative way to use tax monies otherwise collected for war purposes, the Peace Section took action at its meeting to establish a taxes-for-peace fund to which such contributions could be made.

Some of the funds contributed last year were contributions made in lieu of the 10 percent (now 9 percent) telephone excise tax which, according to Wilbur Mills, chairman of the United States House ways and means committee, is a tax needed to pay for the Vietnam war. Other funds contributed in lieu of tax payments came from individuals who withheld part of their federal income tax. Contrary to what many people hoped, the end of United States military action in Vietnam does not mean a reduction in military spending. The proposed budget increase for the Pentagon next year is $4,200,000,000.

Those who have made contributions to the Peace Section in lieu of tax payments during past years are not, as some might suspect, the young activists, but include businessmen, medical doctors, teachers, farmers, and administrators representing a good cross section of the Mennonite brotherhood.

Young people, especially students who are not in earning situations of paying taxes, contributed very little in lieu of tax payments. Most of the contributions came from people over thirty.

The taxes-for-peace fund, as it is being called, is being established for persons whose conscience against war and killings will not allow them to pay the portion of their taxes that goes for war purposes. It should be clearly understood, that contributions made to this fund will not satisfy the Internal Revenue Service. It will, however, provide individuals with a receipt proving that their intentions were not to defraud, but that their withholding some portion of their tax monies was a matter of conscientious objection to war and militarism.

The monies contributed to the fund will be used for the work of the Peace Section and will be a small effort toward waging peace rather than war.

With the need for manpower in the armed forces greatly reduced and with the use of more sophisticated remote-controlled technical weapons, it is increasingly difficult to express one’s conscientious objection to war. Mennonites have traditionally withheld their bodies as a protest against war. Now few bodies are needed and many more dollars are needed for the development and maintenance of expensive war machinery.

Contributions to the taxes-for-peace fund may be one tangible way in which conscientious objectors can positively express peace through their tax dollars.

A letter by Gus Konkel, dated , shows the first sign of backlash for some time. Excerpt:

It seems to me the whole question about war taxes is a prime example of utter question begging. In the final analysis all the taxes go in and out of the same pot. Tagging a name to any particular tax doesn’t really mean anything. I don’t ever expect to live under a government that has no defense system, be it capitalist or communist. How directly I support that defense system through the tax dollar doesn’t seem to me to be of any great import one way or the other.

The edition reported:

American Telephone and Telegraph reports that 22,000 people refused to pay the telephone excise tax in protest against the Vietnam War in , up from 17.000 in and 12,000 in . The Internal Revenue Service wants AT&T to disconnect all those phones, but AT&T says tax problems are IRS’ business. Apparently IRS wants as little to do with 22,000 prosecutions as AT&T wants to do with the $200,000 a month it would cost to disconnect protesters’ phones.

The edition reported on three anonymous donors, young people from Goshen, Indiana, “with an average income of $4,000” had together donated $5,000 to a fund for financially-needy Goshen College students. “They have decided to give away their earnings,” the article reported, “rather than keep them and pay federal taxes, much of which goes for war.”

The edition gave a second example of a Mennonite organization practicing war tax resistance corporately (see for the first example):

Minneapolis congregation refuses telephone excise tax

Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, has recently voted to withhold payments of the 9 percent federal excise tax on its telephone bill “in protest against the Vietnam War and U.S. militarism.”

The church council had discussed the issue in and and had recommended that the tax issue be brought up at the annual business meeting . On , the issue was debated during the Sunday school hour and voted on at the annual meeting in the afternoon.

“There was not complete consensus in our case,” said Pastor Donald Kaufman. “But a significant group feels that this is an important Christian witness.”

Congregational moderator Richard Westby drafted a letter to Northwestern Bell to be sent with each month’s phone payment. The letter reads in part:

“The Faith Church has traditionally opposed war and continues to pay for war (although tax withholding does not have a long tradition within our history.) This contradiction between profession and practice within our congregation is now being changed so that we are more consistent in our faith. We are opposed to war and do not want our tax payments to support, endorse, or pay for U.S. war efforts.

“As a church organization, we realize that we have a responsibility to our country and government for services rendered. We support our government except when it contradicts Christian morality and conscience… We feel obligated to challenge our government’s reckless and immoral military deeds. By our small action we join with many other moral people in strongly urging our government to change its priorities and reduce its dependence upon the military. Without money, modern warfare could not be fought…”

The telephone tax, formerly 10 percent, was restored by President Lyndon B. Johnson in , during the escalation of the Vietnam War. Beginning this year, it will be decreased 1 percent annually until it disappears in .

The edition carried a brief news item about the the strange AFSC lawsuit in which they were trying to have the withholding taxes they had already paid for their conscientiously-objecting employees refunded to them. (See for more about that suit.)

The edition included a tribute to Mennonite professor Benny Bargen, who had died . It touched briefly on his war tax resistance, saying: “His opposition to war had led him to request that his salary be held at a level that would not require him to pay taxes.”

From the Liberation News Service, :

War Tax Resister Cleared on Tax Fraud Charges

 — Lyle Snider and the Durham Community War Tax Resisters of which he is a member, won an important victory recently in the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Reversing an earlier conviction, the court acquitted Snider of charges of having willfully filed a false and fraudulent income tax form when he claimed the entire world as his dependents in order to prevent the withholding of war taxes from his salary.

Both Lyle and Sue Snider were also acquitted of contempt of court charges stemming from their refusal to stand when the judge entered and left the courtroom during the trial in Greensboro.

Although the court did not deal with the constitutional issue of whether the tax withholding system violates a Quaker’s freedom of religion, it concluded that there was no proof of fraudulent intent on Snider’s part. A claim of having 3 billion dependents could deceive no one, the court said. Rather it recognized Snider’s act as a symbolic protest against the use of his money to finance a war.

Similarly, the Sniders’ refusal to stand up before the judge was defended by the court as another example of “symbolic speech.” The court ruled that a person may choose not to stand for a judge’s entry or exit for any reason without being cited for contempt.

While the court’s rulings have cleared Snider of tax fraud and contempt of court charges, they have not challenged the law which in part prompted his “symbolic protest” in the first place. Income taxes, automatically withheld by employers[,] are of course still being used by the government to finance the military activities in Southeast Asia and elsewhere.

“Sixty per cent of our federal income taxes are going to Defense-related activities,” estimates Henry Felisone of the New York chapter of War Tax Resistance. “The Pentagon budget is secret but we don’t believe Nixon’s absurd figures. Where else is 300 billion dollars going? — not health!”

Felisone pointed out that the administration’s lower figures — closer to 30 per cent — are based on manipulations and huge omissions. For example, before the draft was ended, costs of administering the draft system were completely neglected in Nixon’s defense estimates, as well as the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of “secret funds.”

Several months ago the secrecy of the CIA’s budget was challenged as unconstitutional use of taxpayers[’] money, but defeated by the Supreme Court conservative justices 5-4.

In general, Felisone explained, the government tries to avoid the constitutional issues raised by the tax laws. Instead of prosecuting people for tax resistance, the government finds some technicality to prosecute something else, like fraud. “Indictments for tax refusal would raise too many political issues,” Felisone said.

“The whole withholding system is unconstitutional,” continued Felisone. “By automatically withholding your money without going to court, it deprives you of your constitutional right to due process of law.” Furthermore, Felisone charged, “You can’t force an employer to do the Internal Revenue Service’s work. That’s involuntary servitude.”

All these constitutional issues are being raised in a suit co-sponsored by the Emergency Civil Liberties Union and the War Tax Resistance — which is hoping to “take the case to the media and the streets, and undermine the withholding system and the U.S. military machine it supports.”

Meanwhile, individuals and political groups who refuse to withhold income taxes continue to be harassed. For whether it’s constitutional or not, if your taxes haven’t been withheld, the government can confiscate any property, wages, even remove money from your bank account.

“If the IRS goes to a boss and demands a wage check for an employee owing taxes, he hands it over. If he doesn’t, the next day there are 10 agents auditing his business,” explained Felisone.

“Don’t give the IRS this employment information,” Felisone warned. “If an agent comes to your house, don’t let him in and don’t speak to him. If you do he can legally grab your TV and run out with it. It’s out and out stealing, but it happens.”

While the recent court decision acquitting Snider on Tax fraud does not resolve these more fundamental constitutional questions, “It sets an excellent precedent… You can stop your withholding by claiming a large number of dependents, and they can’t get you on fraud,” said Felisone. If the government can’t dig up some other technicality, perhaps it will finally be forced to confront the constitutional and political issues.