War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 2008

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

After noting several years of dwindling coverage of war tax resistance in the Friends Journal, it was a pleasant surprise to see that the magazine devoted its issue to the topic.

Robert Dockhorn wrote the opening editorial. Excerpt:

Historically, many Friends have refused to participate in armed forces, and occasionally Friends, in an organized way, have refused to pay taxes to finance military activity. But mostly, especially in recent years, only a few individuals, acting on the basis of individual conscience, have refused to pay taxes that are “mixed” — i.e. where one cannot determine which monies are funding which functions of government. These individual Friends have sometimes received endorsement from their meetings, and on occasion, meetings (including yearly meetings) have gone so far as to encourage individual Friends generally to think seriously about tax resistance.

In this issue of Friends Journal, we offer several articles that address this subject. At the center of them is a moral dilemma: how can those of us who are clear that our government is pursuing an immoral, militarist course live with our consciences in the knowledge that we are funding this activity? What is required of us? What are our real choices? What is our most effective response? And, at another level: are we required only to be faithful to our consciences, and to leave the consequences in God’s hands?

For  — my wife, Roma, and I refused to pay the military portion of our federal income tax, as calculated by Friends Committee on National Legislation. We donated the refused amounts to various causes that we felt were appropriate. During these years I was employed by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Eventually, the IRS came to my employer and sought to levy my wages for the owed amounts. Much searching resulted, and the yearly meeting, while declining to turn over the funds, placed them in a separate account and did not hide them. Eventually, they were attached. And in , Roma and I prayerfully considered our course, sensed that we were no longer led to this resistance, and settled with the IRS, paying a substantial amount of interest and penalties. We followed a leading, and the leading changed for us. In the entire process, we were supported and nurtured by my monthly and yearly meeting (I am a Friend, Roma is not) — but it was our leading, supported by meetings, not the meetings’ leading.

And that is part of the question in these articles. It is not just about what individuals can do, and should do. It is also about what all Friends can and should do — together. How are Friends led today?

The first war tax resistance article in the issue came from Nadine Hoover, who told the story of Dan Jenkins’s attempt to get the courts to recognize conscientious objection to military taxation as a right of individual conscience that American citizens had before the enactment of the U.S. Constitution and that they had deliberately not relinquished by means of that document (see ♇ ).

The courts weren’t buying it, and in fact found the argument so far-fetched that they upheld a $5,000 fine against Jenkins for using legally-frivolous arguments. Hoover thought the arguments were good enough to be worth repeating in the Journal, however.

She noted that “nearly three dozen Quakers and other supporters” joined Jenkins when he was arguing his appeal, and she argued:

To pay war taxes or to purchase from or invest in corporate structures that profit on war or use military might in order to secure wealth, in violation of our religious conviction, plants a dis-ease among us. Friends’ witness is letting our lives speak — not that we will be protected but that we are willing to make ourselves vulnerable — knowing our faith will sustain us, set us free, and give us joy. I have experienced this joy when I live in accord with my conscience and faith, regardless of the apparent, temporal consequences.

She invited “Friends who will stand before the courts and proclaim our faith… [or] write their statements of conscience and share them with others… [or] make the commitment to represent and/or support any Friend who is called to this witness” to write a war tax resistance committee of the New York Yearly meeting. She hoped that if enough Quakers began to resist, they might make a change in the country the way the women’s suffrage movement did.

The change Hoover was hoping this would bring about was that the government would legally acknowledge conscientious objection to military spending by passing the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, or something along those lines:

Quakers, Mennonites, Shakers, and others have maintained this testimony throughout U.S. history. Still many people today, of a wide variety of faiths, do not pay taxes for military purposes because this action violates their essential religious beliefs and moral convictions of conscience. Passage of this bill by Congress would facilitate the payment of all taxes owed by these principled people.

Perish the thought.

Hoover shared a minute from the New York Yearly Meeting, dated :

The Living Spirit works in the world to give life, 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 seek ways to witness to this religious conviction in each of our communities.

Then she listed off some possible “ways to witness”:

  • encourage your congregation to write and deliver a statement of conscientious objection to paying for war
  • write a statement of conscience to include with your tax return and to send to various other people
  • redirect some or all of your taxes “to an escrow account to be held in trust for the U.S. government”
  • file more lawsuits using Jenkins’s 9th Amendment argument
  • live on a below-the-tax-line income
  • divest from “corporations that profit from war” and invest and spend more responsibly
  • “Pursue local ordinances that deny corporations recognition as persons, and that deny recognition of corporate charters as contracts”

It was a long, rambling, repetitive, sometimes vague and random-seeming (what did corporate charters have to do with any of this?) argument. It represents one weird extreme of the Peace Tax Fund idea, which had come to be seen by some supporters as an end in itself, rather than a means to a more important end. Why do we resist paying war taxes? Because that might help us get the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill passed!

The following article, edited by Karen A. Reixach, tried to account for how enthusiasm for conscientious objection to military taxation had taken hold in the New York Yearly Meeting in recent years. It began by identifying a “movement of conscience” in much the same way that voluntaryists describe ideal noncoercive politics, with a quote from Jim Corbett:

Nonviolent civil initiative by covenant communities is… the way human beings preserve and develop society based on consent, in which the rule of law, as distinguished from the rule of commanders, is necessarily grounded… Civil initiative must be societal rather than organizational, nonviolent rather than injurious, truthful rather than deceitful, catholic rather than sectarian, dialogical rather than dogmatic, substantive rather than symbolic, volunteer-based rather than professionalized, and based on community powers rather than government powers.

The article hoped to describe how when individuals articulate and share their conscientious yearnings, by means of a “statement of conscience,” they can find like-minded souls to form a “movement of conscience” that can work together to “act on our collective beliefs of conscience,” using the recent activity in the New York Yearly Meeting as an example.

She described some of the minutes and reports from the Meeting that had touched on peace and justice issues in recent years, and on the Meeting’s support for Dan Jenkins in his court cases. Then:

In the yearly meeting’s Committee on Conscientious Objection to Paying for War sponsored a series of conferences in support of this growing movement of conscience. The first conference was held at Purchase Meeting the weekend following the oral argument of Jenkins in the Second Circuit in . The court hearing and the conference were attended by about 35 Friends and others from the metropolitan area and the northeast region. Out of that conference arose two strands of action: exploring the possibility of group legal action, and expanding the movement of conscience [PDF illegible] step of writing a statement of conscience.

The second conference, in at Rochester Meeting, featured a public forum on the failure of violence that included Robert Holmes, professor of Philosophy at University of Rochester; Derek Brett, of Conscience and Peace Tax International; and Frederick Dettmer, the attorney representing Daniel Jenkins. During the following day and a half, Friends continued to consider action steps individually and in concert with others.

The third conference was held at Flushing Meeting in … It focused on international venues for raising freedom of conscience issues as they apply to paying taxes for war. A fourth conference , is being planned; and as momentum builds, we envision more every few months, inviting ever-widening circles of participants.

I don’t see many details there about what, if any “action steps” the conferees decided on. Jens Braun is quoted in the article as suggesting some possible next steps:

  1. to develop a better theoretical understanding of pacifism and the failure of violence, so as to share this vision more convincingly
  2. to “explore, develop, and improve the many ways Friends can work towards not paying for war” — 
    1. get the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill passed
    2. try new court challenges along the lines of Dan Jenkins’s
    3. develop and use workshops and other outreach material
  3. to join with counterparts in other countries, for instance at international conferences

The Yearly Meeting then issued this Minute:

To Conscientious Objectors to Paying for War Everywhere,

New York Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends invites you to join us in acknowledging that paying for war violates our conviction in the Power of the Living Spirit to give life, joy, peace and prosperity through love, integrity and compassionate justice among people.

We call on all conscientious objectors to paying for war to state in writing 1) your belief against paying for war and the preparations for war, 2) major influences in forming your belief, 3) how it is demonstrated by the way you live, and 4) a request that our government recognize and accommodate our convictions.

We ask anyone who prepares such a statement to send it to NYYM Committee on Conscientious Objection to Paying for War… We ask Friends to send your statement to your monthly, quarterly and yearly meetings to record in the minutes having received your testimony.

The thing that unnerves me is that it’s possible to read the whole article without seeing a single reference to one of these newly enthused New York Yearly Meetingers actually refusing to pay their taxes (except for Jenkins himself, who put his taxes in escrow with a promise to pay them into a government “Peace Tax Fund” once one was established). There’s lots of talk about writing statements of conscience and holding gatherings and planning legal strategies and contacting legislators and all that, but where is the actual not-paying-for-war part? Of “the many ways Friends can work towards not paying for war,” you’d think some of them might involve not paying for war. Hopefully this just went without saying, but I worry.

A sidebar from David R. Bassett and Karen Reixach concerned the status of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, and where one could look on-line to find information about it. Another, by John Little Randall, described his work with the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund and with Conscience and Peace Tax International.

The following article, by Jens and Spee Braun, wrote about war tax resistance as part of (and contributing to) a larger project of living a life of integrity, and how not-straightforward it all is. It’s a good overview of what a typical modern American war tax resister is in for:

Are you frustrated thar the war goes on and on? Has your conscience brought up with you the subject of not paying for war? Be careful; your conscience can make you do things (albeit for a good cause) that can turn your life upside down!

You don’t really want to think of refusing to pay part of your taxes to the government, do you? For starters, no matter how you calculate the percentage to refuse, there will always be some frustrating other formula that makes just as much sense. You can use the FCNL percentage of the budget going towards war, but the War Resisters League has another calculation and number. You can refuse to pay a token amount, or you can simply not pay the estimated 50 percent or so of the tax burden that goes to war-making, past war debts, the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons work, and all that spying we do. How to decide?

And then, to top it off, you have to figure what to do with the money not going to the government! Give it to charity? Put it in an escrow account? Use it for peaceful and life-affirming purposes at home or overseas? Of course this problem can be avoided by living under the taxable-income level — if you don’t mind life without all the great stuff we have nowadays.

After you make these decisions of how to go about not paying for war, have fun telling your employer that you don’t want any funds withheld from your paycheck and not to send any money directly to the government for you!

If you get really serious, you can take the government to court, try to change the laws, or try to change the lawmakers. So many options!

And that is not all. Deciding to be a conscientious objector to paying for war and setting up the mechanisms by which you put action into your intentions is the easy part. Once you do that, you know your conscience will have taken a few strides into your being. And with that foothold (not to mention the knowledge and understanding you have been given for having taken those steps), your conscience will begin to demand all manner of other deviations from a normal daily way of living!

Here is where life gets really dicey. The problem is integrity. As your conscience integrates one part of your life with your belief structure (and who says they need to be integrated — people have believed one thing and done another for as long as there have been people!), the process can turn into a domino effect with all sorts of other areas likewise wanting to be integrated. It becomes a terrible sacrifice.

And don’t believe those who say it is actually liberating! It is like putting your house in order: once you start organizing the mess, you keep finding other things to clean up that you didn’t even know were out of place. Take finances. It turns out that we could all pay less in taxes, i.e., buy fewer bombs, if we took all the deductions coming to us. What? Well, for example, if you keep track of all that travel to Quaker committee meetings and write down the mileage in a little book to document the expenditure, it may be deductible.

Businesses deduct driving and lunches (and even golf games), but Quakers seldom do. That is so because we Quakers generally are not hagglers; we want to pay our full share of taxes to support our government as it builds roads, keeps up national parks, and pays politicians’ salaries. We just don’t like that uncomfortable part that goes to war. In the house-in-order analogy we want to share our cake, but not have part of it be eaten by our neighbor the landmine manufacturer.

You might think about something as useful and simple as your credit cards. Who really wants to question those little pieces of plastic that make renting cars or buying great books over the Internet so easy? Even (especially) if you pay off your bill in full every month, there can’t be anything wrong, you think, in using a system that would collapse if everyone were responsible, saved their money before making purchases, paid off debts promptly, and weren’t willing to pay usurious interest charges. In particular, don’t think about how, if you do pay off your bill each month, the credit company tolerates your borrowing money free of charge only because others don’t pay up and you might not in the future. See? If you get started, who knows what trouble you will make for yourself Now you have to think about going inside to pay cash and talking to the gas station attendant rather than swiping the plastic card out at the pump!

Can we retain integrity in our relationship to money? Forget it! You know very well that money is not important enough to spend precious time keeping track of, even if some folks call it a representation of our life force. Better to spend time on that street corner protesting the lousy war. And heaven forbid the government would audit our finances, since we have been occupied with the real spiritual tasks of speaking truth to power in public places. They say money talks, but not like we can!

We’ve been told that early Friends opened their financial books to their meeting communities. We can’t do that anymore — it’s hard enough to talk about sex, but to talk about our money? Who can trust others that far — well, except if the others are insurance companies, brokerage firms, or retirement planners? We sure can’t trust our spiritual community to have the power and scale of resources to support us in need or relieve the fears of what would happen to us without money!

Yes, money is scary, so don’t bother pondering the irony of why fear of getting out from under its control ends up being even scarier then being part of a war-based society where you can believe whatever you want, as long as you pay up. It’s not worth it — and besides, a messy house is so much more comfortable!

The next article was by Elizabeth Boardman. She laid out the problem this way:

Among Friends, there is not much debate about whether war taxes are problematic. Depending upon the federal budget for the year and how you count the line items, about half of our income tax dollars will be used for the outrageous costs of war. Thousands of our personally earned dollars will be used to enrich the military-industrial complex, to make killers of young men and women,. and to cause death and destruction in the world. Letting our own money be used this way is not consistent with good stewardship, with right sharing, with Quaker testimonies, or with Christian teachings.

The question of whether and how we can resist is much more complex. Standing up to Goliath is possible only for the most confident David.

She mentioned a different set of anxieties than the Brauns had covered in their piece: worries that tax resistance or protest might trigger an audit (and then worries that such an audit might uncover math mistakes, or worse, “convenient” errors)… worries that the accountant who helps her with her tax forms will disapprove of her stand and maybe drop her as a client… difficulty reconciling willingly racking up IRS penalties & interest with her otherwise frugal and practical economic practices… difficulty finding the time to research and plan her tax resistance strategy… reluctance to break the law (or to be known as a law-breaker).

In the face of things like this, Boardman recommends that prospective war tax resisters start small: maybe with phone tax resistance, or some sort of symbolic protest like withholding $10.40 from your taxes or supporting the Peace Tax Fund.

She also recommended that people who resist quietly, by slipping below the taxable income line, start making some noise about what they’re doing — otherwise “we accomplish nothing but a sense of personal righteousness.”

Following this were an excerpt from John Woolman’s journals (see Excerpts from the Journal of John Woolman) and from the letter Woolman and twenty other Quakers sent to their fellow-Friends in to explain why they could not pay taxes being raised for war expenses (see ♇ ).

The next article in the set was by Steve Leeds. He described becoming a war tax resister in and then drifting away in discouragement after the IRS garnished his salary for the taxes, penalties, and interest. Then:

Fifteen years later, through renewed spiritual commitment and membership in a Friends meeting, I was led to take action with other Quakers on war tax resistance. It began among a few of us, and that’s all it takes.

, my meeting began cohosting war tax resistance gatherings with Northern California War Tax Resistance. We urged Friends in our meeting to engage in symbolic war tax resistance — refusing federal phone taxes, paying under protest, withholding symbolic amounts, or living below the tax line — and letting our legislators know about it. We found that a number of households in the meeting partook in some form of war tax resistance, symbolic or otherwise.

Philosophically, it’s a slam dunk. No more war. Not with my dollars.

Logistically, though, it’s easy to become fixated on the mechanics and legal aspects of war tax resistance. There’s a lot to learn and consider. My journey, through discernment, prayer, and the support of others, led me to focus on complex social and financial issues. Mostly, I have been confronting my fear of the IRS and the insecurity of not knowing where this will lead.

For I have held back $1,040 from the IRS (symbolic of the IRS 1040 form). Living with multiple feelings — fear, joy, and liberation — makes life whole. My faith as a Quaker, striving to be nonviolent and to oppose all wars, has led me down this path. I am sustained by the knowledge that many Quakers throughout history have resisted paying taxes for war. When I think that we as a faith community need to do more, I know that the we starts with me.

So! Quite a bit of material and many perspectives there — and a great deal of contrast in approaches between the pursuit of legal accommodation from the New York Quakers and the cautious but deliberate war tax resistance of the California Quakers (Boardman and Leeds were both from the San Francisco Meeting). It had been years since the Journal devoted that much attention to the topic, and they haven’t done so since.

The series of articles prompted a lot of discussion in the letters-to-the-editor column of subsequent issues — some of it quite hostile to war tax resistance.

  • Dennis P. Roberts noted that the Bible is full of stories of war, and that it “establishes beyond any doubt that the performance of an army in the field is directly correlative to the quality of the faith and spirit of the society or nation that put it there” and that because “the heart, faith, honor, and spirit of a nation” is best represented by “the fighting soldier, the fighting sailor, the fighting marine, the fighting airman,” he finds that “this nonpayment of war taxes can indeed be carried to frivolous extremes.”
  • Lucinda Antrim thought that war tax resistance “contradicts the Testimony of Community… We are, here in the U.S., members of the community of the United States.… I find myself agreeing, somewhat to my surprise, with the judge’s imposition of a ‘frivolous” fine on Dan Jenkins.” (Naomi Paz Greenberg responded that she could not understand how this vague and unarticulated “Testimony of Community somehow nullifies our historic Peace Testimony”.)
  • Perry Treadwell responded that he did not recognize the U.S. government as his “community.” “Thirty-six years ago I was led to refuse to pay war taxes… I currently send the small amount that I calculate this warrior nation wants to agencies that support the families of wounded military personnel. I have followed Thoreau’s warning: ‘What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn.’
  • David Zarembka wrote in to correct “the impression that the IRS is as omniscient as God, all seeing, all knowing, never making a mistake in getting the last farthing out of the helpless tax resister. Nothing could be further from the truth.” He recounted some IRS blunders in his own case, and said, “I have always made sure that the cost of the IRS getting funds from me exceeded any penalties and interest that they might charge. In my 37 years of war tax resistance I am certain that I (and all the other active war tax resisters I know as a group) have withheld much more funds for government war-making and given them to peace organizations than the IRS has ever collected, including penalties and interest. I don’t think that this excuse should be used by Quakers as a group as a cop-out for refusing to pay for our wars. In fact, if all Quakers in the United States were war tax resisters, the IRS couldn’t even cope with our collective resistance.”
  • George Levinger, who said he’d been a phone tax resister in the Vietnam War era, had soured on war tax resistance, considering it ultimately counterproductive largely because the government succeeded in seizing the taxes from him with penalties and interest. He suggested channeling the resources you might otherwise use in war tax resistance “to contribute to various sorts of peace-promoting organizations” instead.
  • Ruth Hyde Paine wrote in to promote the “penny poll” idea.
  • Gary Shuler wrote in to sing jingo bells: “As a retired military man, I take exception to anyone who wants to use the privileges of this country and not help to foot the cost. Many of my forefathers and yours died for this freedom and you don’t want to pay taxes to keep it? Move! Cuba is nice!” (Isn’t it cute that in someone was still using the idea of tyranny in Cuba as a contrast to the U.S. rather than an example of it?)
  • For Pamela Haines, the challenge presented by war taxes seemed largely to be a challenge to come up with good excuses not to resist them. Excerpts:

    I don’t think the problem is just lack of courage, at least I hope not! Part of the difficulty, I believe, is the extent to which we are embedded and enmeshed in a deeply violent world. It’s not just the portion of my tax dollars that goes to deadly warfare. It’s my computer, the disposal of which poisons poor people in Africa and Asia. It’s my everyday purchases from invisible corporations that destroy lives and habitats far from mine. It’s my energy consumption that threatens the very viability of future generations.

    If war tax resistance seems too hard for most of us, what do we do if that’s just the tip of the iceberg? Some Friends are not deterred by the seemingly impossible and set out to disentangle themselves from the whole mess — living below taxable level, with only the bare necessity of purchases and a minimal carbon footprint. This may be a true calling for some, and certainly a courageous one, but I know it’s not mine. To me the focused goal of living a life free from complicity with institutional violence would involve participating in another sin, that of separation from my neighbors.

    Is it better not to do a right thing, if by doing a right thing you would be being inconsistent in not doing all possible right things?

In the issue, Jamie K. Donaldson explained why she gave up on trying to change the United States and left it rather than continue to be part of its war machine. She’d contemplated tax resistance at one point, but decided it wasn’t for her. Here’s how she describes that decision:

I was haunted by the quote attributed to former Secretary of State Alexander Haig: “Let them march all they want as long as they pay their taxes.” Suddenly the television shots of millions of people in the streets protesting the start of war lost their inspiration for me, and I wallowed in our powerlessness to prevent it.

Haig’s cynical remark exemplified my inner struggle as well as a wrenching and age-old moral dilemma for all Friends. Some bear it as a cross, enabling them to continue the Lamb’s War on behalf of love, truth, and justice. Could I, too? Alas, the contradiction of working for peace while paying for war, of being complicit by mere participation in the U.S. “system,” became untenable and intolerable. I explored war tax resistance, but rejected it because I hold the assets of my incapacitated mother and could not allow the government to garnish money for her care to recuperate my taxes withheld.

An obituary notice for Stephanie Kennedy in the issue mentioned her work on war tax resistance. An obituary notice for Charles Richard Johnson in the issue called him “a dedicated war tax resister.”

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