Tax Resistance in “The Mennonite”, 1974

This is the twenty-first in a series of posts about war tax resistance as it was reported in back issues of The Mennonite. Today brings us up to 1974.

The Mennonite

brought readers the news that “The World Peace Tax Fund Act” had been introduced in Congress. This early version of the “peace tax fund” idea, according to the article, would create a federal trust fund separate from the funds in the general U.S. treasury, which would be supervised by a board of trustees (mostly appointed by the U.S. president). The fund might be used to support such things as (the language in the bill said “shall include but not be limited to”) “research and other activities designed to develop and demonstrate nonviolent methods of resolving international conflicts.” Registered conscientious objectors to military taxation would have a portion of their taxes assigned to this fund (a portion equivalent to the percent of the U.S. budget spent on military purposes in the previous year) in a way that would ostensibly give them “rights… comparable to First Amendment rights given to draftees who are conscientious objectors.”

“The bill,” the article explains with a straight face, “prohibits using the Peace Fund as a means of reducing regular appropriations for nonmilitary purposes.” In other words, if the trustees of the peace tax fund decide to grant the money to the Peace Corps, Congress is not supposed to then cut the appropriation it gave to the Peace Corps out of the general treasury. How this was supposed to be enforced is anyone’s guess.

This is the modern version of the phony “Civilian Bonds” from World War Ⅱ (see ♇ 9, 10, & 11 July 2018). It would allow “conscientious” people to avoid the risks of resistance and to get official government recognition of how conscientious they are without actually affecting one whit their complicity in what the government does with their money.

Sadly, one of the stories the archive of The Mennonite tells is how the drive to pass some sort of “peace tax fund” legislation like this came to displace actual war tax resistance — even as the proposed bills themselves became more and more watered down and got further and further from being taken seriously in Congress (the current version, doggedly introduced to each Congress by Representative John Lewis, has no cosponsors). I won’t be commenting on all of the individual mentions of these bills as they come up in this and subsequent issues of The Mennonite, as I consider it tangential to conscientious tax resistance (at best; antagonistic at worst), but there will be many such mentions, and by the end of my survey, they will outnumber mentions of real war tax resistance.

Taking off my rant hat…

The edition reprinted much of a letter from James Klassen, who was doing relief work in Vietnam, to his pastor, Ronald Krehbiel, telling about the torture of prisoners by South Vietnamese police. Editor Larry Kehler comments at the end of the letter: “The telephone company in Wichita called our house the other day to ask if we wanted to start paying our federal excise tax again ‘now that the war is over.’ We declined.”

The edition told of a triumph in the AFSC’s suit attempting to retrieve money it had withheld from the paychecks of its conscientiously objecting employees. A District Court had ordered the Internal Revenue Service to stop collecting the full taxes for those employees “because such withholding violates the free exercise of their religion as members of the Society of Friends” and to refund previously-collected amounts that represent “overpayment of taxes withheld.”

The triumph would be short-lived. (See for more about the suit and how it progressed.) When the Supreme Court voted, with one notable dissent, to reverse the district court’s decision, the news was covered in the edition.

As noted in the last episode, the Faith Mennonite Church in Minneapolis had decided to stop paying its telephone tax as a congregation. Alas, as the edition noted, the IRS successfully seized the $1.64 from the church’s bank account.

One possibly beneficial, though indirect, effect of the publicity about the peace tax fund act, I must admit, was that it seems to have inspired a Japanese Christian, Michio Ohno, to spark war tax resistance in Japan. A letter from Ohno, dated says that upon reading about the bill, he “at once wrote a letter to the editor of Asahi shimbun, the most influential daily paper in Japan, and it was printed in the issue of the paper.”

In the letter, I stated (1) I do not want to pay my income tax to be used for military purpose out of money God has entrusted me, (2) I will gladly pay the tax if nonmilitary use is secured, and (3) I proposed to have an act like the World Peace Tax Fund Act in the United States.

A few days later, Professor Masahito Ara commented favorably about my letter in his Newspapers in review on the NHK Radio. Dr. Sakakibara, who energetically writes books about Anabaptism, proposed an “alternative tax” system in the Anabaptist genealogy of conscientious objection, which is now at the press.

We are preparing to make a group looking for a possibility of having a law enabling us to pay tax whose use is restricted to nonmilitary purposes. We need your prayer and spiritual support.

But while this letter seemed to place all of the emphasis on a “peace tax fund”-style bill, the movement that Ohno started would instead focus on actual war tax resistance. Here’s an article that appeared in the edition:

Tax resistance group in Japan gains support

A war tax resistance movement is beginning in Japan.

Started by Michio Ohno, a pastor of the United Church of Christ in Japan who attended Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminaries in Elkhart, Indiana, in , an organization for “Conscientious Objection to Military Tax” was formed in Tokyo. About sixty people attended the first meeting, and a “general assembly” was planned at the Shinanomachi Church in Tokyo.

The objectives of the organization are (1) reduction and eventual abolition of Japan’s Self-Defense Force (Japan’s constitution prohibits a military) and (2) encouraging nonpayment of the 6.4 percent of income taxes that support the Self-Defense Force.

Mr. Ohno, who is now working with Mennonites and Brethren in the Tokyo area, started the movement out of his religious convictions. But support has now grown beyond Mennonites, the Society of Friends, and the Fellowship of Reconciliation to include other Japanese citizens who question the constitutionality of the Self-Defense Force.

At the organizational meeting, speakers included Gan Sakakibara, principal of the Tokyo English Center, on “The historical development of conscientious objection” Yasusaburo Hoshino, professor at the Tokyo University of Liberal Arts, on “How to live nonviolently; A theory of peaceful tax paying”; and Shizuo Ito, a lawyer who sued the government for having unconstitutional armed forces, on “Struggle for peace.”

Mr. Ohno called Conscientious Objection to Military Tax the first organized movement of this kind in Japan.

“The time was ripe when we started the campaign,” he said. “We consulted several scholars of the constitution, and one of the professors said he himself had wanted to start a movement like this. Somebody else may well have started a movement like this anyway, even if we did not. We should not just sit back and wait for the peace to come, but be the peacemakers.”

Mr. Ohno said one of the decisive factors in his becoming involved in conscientious tax objection in was an article in The Mennonite last year on the proposed World Peace Tax Fund legislation in the United States.

The Mennonite General Conference met for its triennial sessions in , and 1,300 delegates passed several resolutions. One was:

War taxes

Be it resolved that we educate ourselves more fully regarding the pervasive militarism of our society and express ourselves more strongly, advocating a reordering of priorities toward peacemaking;

  • That we encourage congregations to study the World Peace Tax Fund Act (U.S.), considering the possibility of supporting it;
  • That we… ask all General Conference members to question prayerfully whether they want to pay war taxes voluntarily;
  • That the General Conference offices seriously work at the possibility of providing each employee with the option of following his/her conscience in the payment of war taxes; and
  • That the Commission on Home Ministries give greater priority to this issue, including the creation of a special fund to be used for education, for assistance to those conscientiously refusing payment of war taxes, and for legal expenses, and that each person committed to war tax resistance pledge a regular contribution to this fund.

(Compare this to a resolution passed by the Central District Conference which endorsed the World Peace Tax Fund Act and asked its member churches to help get it passed but said nothing about war tax resistance or support for resisters.)

I took these brief excerpts from a later report on the triennial sessions:

“The struggles within the church, both individually and as a people, to relate to war taxes, amnesty, and serious economic questioning spoke of life to me. I came away grateful to be part of this people.” ―Dorsy Hill

World poverty and hunger, western affluence, the meaning in the twentieth century of the Bible’s teaching on the Year of Jubilee, life-style, ordination, amnesty, war taxes, mission expansion, church planting, and international relations were among the issues raised.

The meeting [a panel discussion that advocated simple living on ] ended with tears, prayers, and other verbal responses after Ladon Sheats’ plea for Mennonites to turn away from wealth and the payment of war taxes.

The service was punctuated by an unscheduled dramatic presentation, initiated by Ladon Sheats.

Three persons wearing signs saying, “Fear,” “Security,” and “Tradition,” came to the front of the gymnasium during one of the first hymns and told a “third world” person, “We cannot help you.” They remained at the front until almost the end of the service, when they left saying, “Our forefathers said no but we don’t. We pay over $4 billion in war taxes. We can’t help you. Please forgive us. May God help you.”

A letter from Arnold Claasen, dated complained that not enough time was given to discuss the various resolutions at the triennial. “Specifically with reference to ‘war tax’ resolution, there was considerable discussion, and the chair found it necessary to terminate the discussion, with good reason.” In his own case, while he did not care to see so much of his taxes go to the military, and he would not serve in the military, he felt that this did not relieve him from the responsibility to pay his taxes. He recommended instead that Mennonites rededicate themselves to charitable giving, in part as a legal war tax resistance technique.

Generosity and charity and self-sacrifice — “Jubilee living” — were also the theme of a letter from John Swarr dated . Excerpt:

Once again war is brought to mind, now in its new form of refusing food to the hungry or assistance to the poor and struggling peoples. But the U.S. Government continues to send money and give military training and materials to many repressive governments, and we continue to pay the taxes it uses to finance this evil, in Brazil, Chile, South Korea, South Vietnam, and on and on. Stop! Jubilee living proclaims Jesus is Lord! Neither Caesar nor Uncle Sam is lord, so we must resist this evil and channel money to the General Conference War Tax Alternative Fund instead. I enclose some refused tax money for the fund and trust you will see that it gets to the right place.

The Commission on Home Ministries of the General Conference Mennonite Church, having been given a mandate at the triennial, established a “war tax alternative fund.” Here’s how the edition described it:

The fund, to be outside the budget, will be used for education about war tax resistance, assistance to those who are resisting taxes, and legal expenses of individuals or agencies involved in tax resistance.

The commission’s peace and social concerns committee took action in to establish the fund and to invite persons who have a commitment to war tax resistance to contribute to the fund on a regular basis.

In addition, persons who have resisted war taxes or who are concerned about the issue are encouraged to share their experiences with the commission or to request resources on the war tax issue, according to Harold Regier, CHM peace and social concerns secretary.

Peter Ediger, a member of the peace and social concerns committee and pastor of the Arvada (Colorado) Mennonite Church, will coordinate work on the war tax issue and possibly edit a war tax newsletter to keep concerned people in touch with each other.

That same edition carried this news:

U.S. sues diocese in war tax protest

The Justice Department has brought suit against the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania to collect $1,006 in federal income taxes withheld by David M. Gracie.

Mr. Gracie, rector of the Free Church of St. John in Kensington, a working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, withheld 50 percent of his income tax for the past five years because of the continuing American involvement in Vietnam. He claims that “another 50,000 will die this year courtesy of the United States of America.”

In response to the suit, the diocesan council let stand its recent decision “that each of our employees has the right to exercise his conscience in respect to the withholding of payment of taxes as a means of protest” and that the legal council of the diocese will contest the government move to collect money from the diocese.

From Fellowship magazine.