I.R.S. Sues Quaker Group
Philadelphia, — Priscilla Adams says she does not mind paying taxes — she just does not want her money going to the military.
Because of that, Ms. Adams, a Quaker organizer, finds herself in a court battle with the Internal Revenue Service.
Ms. Adams, 50, has refused to pay at least some of her federal taxes for many years and owes the government more than $42,000 in back taxes, interest and fines. She says she would rather her money went to further peaceful causes.
“They can do things like the checkoff for the presidential election campaign; they could easily do an accommodation for a peace-tax fund,” Ms. Adams said Wednesday from her house in Willingboro, N.J.
The I.R.S. stepped up the pressure in the dispute on Tuesday when it sued her employer, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends, for refusing to garnishee her wages. The government wants to impose a 50 percent penalty, more than $21,000, against the society, a regional Quaker organization.
“That would be a hefty price for what we believe is right,” said Gretchen Castle, a leader with the group. “I think that there are other ways the government can do it that are more friendly, more supportive of our faith.”
The government is seeking taxes and penalties ; after that period the Quakers began to withhold taxes from Ms. Adams’s paychecks — she earns about $32,000 a year — and put them in an escrow account to which the I.R.S. has access. The Quakers say they do not want to help the tax agency collect the back taxes and penalties by garnisheeing additional wages.
Nationally, about 8,000 Americans withhold some or all of their federal income taxes because of their political beliefs, often because they oppose military spending, according to the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
Ms. Adams is the only employee of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting who does not pay income taxes, Ms. Castle said, although a few take other actions, like refusing to pay federal telephone taxes that go to the military.
Ms. Adams sued the government on religious freedom grounds in 1996, asking the I.R.S. to set up a fund for conscientious objectors and to excuse her tax fines and penalties because her beliefs provided “reasonable cause” for nonpayment.
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected her arguments, and the Supreme Court declined to hear the case.
Peter Goldberger, a lawyer who represented Ms. Adams and now represents her employer, said Quaker leaders hoped to formulate a response to the lawsuit at their meeting.
Ms. Adams, who is married and has two children, said she might quit her job if the Quakers lose the case, rather than see most of her income go to the I.R.S.’s general fund.
For now, she lends the amount in dispute to charitable causes she supports. She says she will not demand repayment unless the tax agency comes after her.
More Than a Paycheck reported last year that the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting decided to continue refusing to garnish Adams’s wages according to the Meeting’s explicit policy on such matters.