War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1978

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

There was hardly an issue of the Friends Journal in that did not at least mention war tax resistance, and some issues covered the topic in depth.

In the issue was an article by Scott Benarde about the Quaker community of Monteverde in Costa Rica. Excerpts:

In , a year after the sentencing [of Marvin Rockwell for draft resistance], Rockwell and the small Quaker community of Fairhope made national news. In a short article, Time magazine mentioned that “for the first time in history a group of Quakers were planning to leave the U.S. because of their peace-loving convictions.” Seven Quaker families — including Marvin Rockwell and his parents — twenty-five or thirty people in all, had decided to move to the Central American Republic of Costa Rica.

, Marvin Rockwell recounts why he left the U.S. and what has happened to him since settling 5,000 feet up in the steep, rugged mountains of Costa Rica.

“We had a growing dissatisfaction with what we in Fairhope thought was a military build-up, a wartime economy. We wanted to be free of paying taxes in a war economy,” Rockwell says in a soft, yet deliberate, voice. “When the judge sentenced us he said, ‘If you’re not willing to defend your country, you should get out.’ So we began to think seriously of that possibility.”

That issue also brought the news that Quaker Richard Catlett “has been indicted on criminal charges of willful failure to pay income tax for three years” (the indictment was actually for failure to file).

The issue — under the theme “Can the Government Cancel Conscience?” — had many mentions of war tax resistance. The opening article, by Ruth Kilpack, began:

Ten years ago, at the height of the Vietnam War, a Friend spoke directly to my condition at Philadelphia Yearly Meeting when he said, “Many of us support our sons’ conscientious objection to serving in the armed forces. But what about ourselves? Do those of us who are beyond draft age, or not otherwise subject to the draft, conscientiously object to giving our money for war?”

For me, this struck deep, as did the words, “Two things are needed to fight a war: warm bodies and cold cash.” For the first, the full flush of youth is required for combat. For the second, there is no age limit for those who must pay tax funds, over half of which are channeled directly into wars, past, present, and future. Everyone is involved. By the payment of taxes, all are required to support the “national defense,” or whatever the current euphemism is.

Kilpack’s article concerned the legal case of Robert Anthony, who was appealing his tax case on religious freedom grounds.

What Bob Anthony’s case was about that day was an effort to break the longstanding precedent set by the case of A.J. Muste, the great peace activist, who in had challenged the U.S. government in the matter of paying taxes for war. The court had then ruled that the income tax does not interfere with religious practice. Whatever attempts have been made since that time to break that precedent-and there have been many-have been thwarted, federal judges repeatedly refusing to examine the deep issues involved: the issues of rights of conscience and the First Amendment’s protection of religious belief.

As it turned out, according to Anthony, “the court came up with a complete backing of the government’s right to cancel conscience for the sake of the taxing system.”

The same issue reprinted excerpts from a letter that Media Monthly Meeting had sent to the court that was hearing the Anthony case, in which it said:

As a Meeting, we have consistently backed and encouraged [Anthony’s] position on military taxes. We believe that any citizen who on the basis of religion or conscience is opposed to paying for armaments or war should not be compelled by the tax laws to pay taxes for these purposes. Refusal to participate in any way in killing and warfare is a basic principle of the Quaker faith.

…Robert Anthony’s refusal of military taxes constitutes an essential and consistent implementation of Quaker religious principles.… We assert that the free exercise of the Quaker religion entails the avoidance of any participation in war or financial contribution to that part of the national budget used by the military.

In the same issue, Bruce & Ruth Graves wrote of how their war tax resistance had grown out of their conscientious objection to the draft.

[O]ur early married years were largely those of family and professions, years in which we were no longer pressured by government to form external written attestations of belief to satisfy the draft board. After all, we had done that. What else could just we two do to alter this evil? The pacifist ideas could safely rest — or could they? In retrospect, those beliefs that had been yanked forth from us by society, perhaps too early in our lives, needed more time to mature, to become integrated into our very beings.

Perhaps ten years of integration preceded our realization that a different and subtler written attestation of belief was being required of us by our society. This attestation was made not once, but every year and it was an attestation of beliefs we did not believe. It was a lie. It was our income tax return. We signed it every year, and thus gave money, without objection, to buy the tools of war, even though we did not believe in killing. It was subtle because it was money and did not look like death. But when you put them together, it is a contract.

…All of this occurred during a time when militarism increasingly permeated national policy. Here, then, we finally reached a point where the idea of our financing the arms race became unbearable. After all, warfare was becoming more automated, thus relying far more on the expenditure of tax money than on the conscription of lives. In fact, it now appears that conscientious objection itself may be tending toward irrelevance, unless the concept is expanded beyond the confines of the Selective Service system — especially for those over draft age.

At this point we changed our tax returns into something we could in conscience sign and our remittance checks into contracts for the Internal Revenue Service. Each year, the item “Foreign Tax Credit” and about fifty percent of our normal tax “due” was entered. Carrying that credit over to the first page as instructed, we showed each year on our signed returns a credit balance due us from the IRS. To reduce IRS profit from interest and penalty, we still paid tax “owed” as calculated normally, but our check required the IRS to promise to refund the war tax we claimed by their endorsement because of a restrictive clause we placed on the back of the check.

Rather than our refund, the IRS has usually sent a notice for us to sign, correcting our return. We have never signed these, because that means agreeing to the original war tax. Yet the IRS seems to need our agreement to resolve each case legally — that is, unless it should decide to initiate proceedings against us in U.S. Tax Court. That, in fact, happened to us in for tax year .

From here, the Graveses write about their frustrations with the legal system, which seems eager to latch onto superficial technicalities to avoid having to face head-on the issue of whether the government can force people to violate such core tenets of conscience as “thou shalt not kill” via the tax system. They also express the need they feel for a stronger and more sustaining national war tax resistance organization:

At present, the community of war tax resistance appears to us to be a loosely-structured communications network of interpersonal contacts, newsletters, and small organizations perhaps not always widely known. Entrance to this network, we presume, is often gained through need for help by individuals who then grow, gain experience, and are later able to help other newcomers in their various situations. Whether they do help others or just gradually fade out of the network, however, is crucial to the power of the community. If we, ourselves, were to fade out as our own tax problems become less immediate, for example, the experience and knowledge we will have gained (even though far from complete) would be lost to the others. It would seem to be a sad waste to have this process repeated over and again for each member passing through the community.

There are a few organizations emphasizing war tax resistance (e.g., WTR, Peacemakers, etc.), from which a range of handbooks and information is available for individual action. Some may provide counseling: for example, we have recently learned that CCCO is in liaison currently with the Philadelphia Office of War Tax Resistance (WTR), thus affording the wider range of counseling needed by this more recent form of conscientious objection.

They added:

There are other courses of individual action besides variations on how to fill out a tax return. One such course is to reduce one’s income to a level of lower — or no — taxation. For some, this would mean a change in profession, or else a donation of one’s professional services to his or her current employer. If it is not desirable to put that kind of commitment into that particular employer’s pockets, one can give away up to fifty percent of taxable income to tax deductible organizations, thereby reaching three simultaneous objectives: a) continue one’s profession, b) support human interests of choice, and c) decrease war tax payments. Tax liability on interest income can also be reduced by buying tax-exempt bonds or shares in exempt bond funds. Both Individual Retirement Accounts and Deferred Tax Annuities (sometimes available through the employer) enable the postponement of income to retirement years, when, hopefully, the World Peace Tax Fund Act will have become law. This provides a reasonable chance for legally claiming the exemption on a part of current income, the exempted funds then being redirected to the WPTF Trust Fund for uses more closely aligned with human values.

Also in that issue was an update on the Richard Catlett case, in which he was charged with “willfully and knowingly failing to file income tax returns for ” — he in fact hadn’t filed .

The Brandywine Peace Community wrote in with “some fundamental questions of reality and responsibility” for Quaker taxpayers. The community ran an alternative fund “comprised of refused war taxes, personal savings, and group deposits, [that] makes interest-free loans to groups working for social change or providing change-oriented services. Thus, the alternative fund is a small-scale act of beating swords into plowshares and initiating our own peace conversion program.” Also:

In past January–April tax seasons, the Brandywine group and its supporters have been present at local IRS offices, presenting the option of war tax resistance, and posing the question, “H-bombs or Bread?” with peace tax counseling available.

The issue shared the story of John and Louise Runnings, who…

…have withheld payment of their income taxes in order, as they state, “to resolve the conflict between the spirit that dwells within and the violence implicit in surrendering our substance to the building of the war machine.” They have submitted a brief to this effect to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The Runnings feel that since their action makes them answerable to “those Quakers whose light allows them to pay the federal tax,” they must plead their case before the Society of Friends as well as before the Federal Court. In doing so, they stress the fact that they share Friends’ testimonies against war but feel that these testimonies will be muted if they are not supported by actions which speak louder than words. They question how we can “speak truth to power” when so large a part of our income supports that power. They invite Friends to join them “in taking those uncomfortable actions which put us in conflict with the government rather than with the Spirit.”

That issue also brought the update that Robert Anthony’s appeal to the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals had been rejected. It also noted that, according to the Albuquerque Monthly Meeting’s newsletter, the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and the AFSC were contributing to the legal expenses in the case.

At the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, according to the Journal, “[a] minute on nonpayment of taxes for military purposes was adopted” — but not one that required much explanation, apparently.

A letter from Austin Wattles appeared in the issue in which he encouraged the Journal to continue to cover war tax resistance, saying that to him, “[t]he movement seems to be growing.” He told of the support he had received from Meetings in his area — specifically the Old Chatham (New York) Monthly Meeting and Worcester (Massachusetts) Meeting. He concluded:

[T]ax resistance can have its penalties. You don’t have money to send your kids to college if you change your profession in a way not to pay withholding tax. I think certainly one reason so few Friends have considered this witness is it can hurt one’s profession so seriously. It’s not only losing the wages, but Friends enjoy doing a good job where they are working and don’t know how else they can live.

I like Quakers very much. I’ve always been an active Friend. But I feel our being part of the world to the degree we are prevents us from following Christ if the price is too high.

Molly Arrison also had a letter in that issue, but she thought war tax resistance “to be a most unrealistic and disrupting idea” because it would lead to a slippery slope of every citizen withholding taxes for whatever items of government spending they disapproved of, leading to “50 million contingencies” that would overwhelm the government’s revenue system. She recommended that Quakers instead “orchestrate consistent barrages of phone calls, letters, and lectures until the general public has more influence than the Pentagon.”

David Scull considered this same argument in a letter in the issue:

We wish not to pay taxes for what we so strongly disapprove of. But there are those who equally strongly feel that government contributions to the United Nations, or government money to pay for abortions, violate their principles. It would not be difficult to compile a long list of purposes objected to; of course we say that our cause is a matter of high principle, but one person’s principle is another’s foible.

Is there some guideline which would make it easier to distinguish between two paramount obligations when they seem to be in conflict, one to support those purposes which our society has determined (no matter how imperfectly) to be for the common good, and the other to obey our consciences? It seems to me that this can best be judged by our willingness to make some tangible sacrifices on behalf of conscience.

Scull went on to say that this made him skeptical of the World Peace Tax Fund plan: “[I]f I understand it correctly, there is no personal sacrifice involved. It is just too easy to say to the government, ‘Please send my money where I want it to go instead of where you want it to go.’ ” He suggested improving the World Peace Tax Fund idea by “add[ing] the principle of personal sacrifice”:

Suppose I say, “Instead of $1000 which you say I owe you, here is $1100 as evidence of my sincerity; now will you allocate it in these ways? That is how much extra I am willing to pay for the privilege of having my money not go to pay for machines of war.”

The inclusion of such a sacrificial element in the WPTF program would make a great deal of difference in my own ability to argue for it, and I think it would make a very convincing argument as we work toward its widespread acceptability.

…When we ask to relieve our consciences because of the way our money is spent, we should be… willing to put a price tag on the privilege.

A letter-to-the-editor in response to Scull’s argument, from Bill Samuel, thought that while the personal-sacrifice angle “has some surface attractiveness…”

Put another way, the proposal amounts to a government tax on conscience, which is quite a different matter from a voluntary personal sacrifice. Not only is it morally questionable for the government “to put a price tag on” conscience, but some legal authorities believe it would constitute unconstitutional discrimination as well.

The World Peace Tax Fund bill would not be a special privilege. Rather, the WPTF bill is a practical means of implementing the rights of conscience guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Like women, blacks and homosexuals, pacifists should take the position that we need not earn our rights but that they should be respected as a matter of course in a free and pluralistic society.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with the concept of people of conscience making a sacrifice for their deeply held beliefs. Rather than impose a ten percent tax on conscience, concerned Friends might send an amount equal to ten percent of their tax payment to the National Council for a World Peace Tax Fund…

Corporately, Friends can also act to support those working to secure the right of pacifists not to pay for war. One yearly meeting recently agreed to give $1,500 to the NCWPTF and several monthly meetings include the NCWPTF in their budgets. Mennonites and Brethren each give a full time volunteer service worker to the NCWPTF. While Friends do not have the kind of organized volunteer service effort that the other historic peace churches have, meetings can do their part by together contributing enough to support a full-time salaried worker.

Ross Roby also had some words to say about Scull’s argument against the World Peace Tax Fund plan. He first begged for “immediate self-sacrificial labor and giving, on behalf of passage of a WPTF bill” and then wrote:

I would like to remind those who, like David Scull, have “difficulty with the World Peace Tax Fund as presently offered,” that there is nothing sacred and immutable about the present wording. We can be quite certain that, when Congress takes a serious scrutiny of provisions for an alternative fund for C.O.s, much rewriting will be done. The final bill. when passed, may look very different from the WPTF bill as now published.

He suggested that conscientious objectors to military spending should “soft pedal” the arguments amongst themselves over the details of the WPTF plan and instead concentrate on trying to convince the government to enact “a change in the income tax laws that will allow ‘free exercise of religion’ and give us the opportunity to build institutions for nonviolent solutions to international conflict with our present war tax dollars.”

His advice seems to have been followed, and the current campaign for “peace tax fund” legislation seems to have become so unwilling to use critical judgment and so eager to pass legislation of any sort that it has ended up backing a bill that would do nothing to help people with genuine conscientious objection to supporting military spending, nothing to reduce the military budget, and indeed nothing to increase spending on nonviolent conflict resolution — and yet even this bill has gone nowhere in Congress. Such is the cost of “soft pedaling” internal debate.

John J. Runnings confronted Molly Arrison’s argument more head-on in the letters-to-the-editor column of the issue. Excerpt:

Our actions are determined by the degree of urgency we feel. When our house is on fire we may exit by way of an upstairs window rather than by the conventional route via the stairs. Many of us see the arms race as a fire out of control, and we are so adverse to feeding the flames that we are prepared to suffer considerable discomfort rather than do so.

So we break the law and are prepared to suffer the penalty.…

To break the law openly and expose oneself to the wrath of the power structure is to witness to the urgency and depth of one’s convictions.…

The early Quakers started at the places that Molly suggests, in the heart and in the community, but they went further. They broke the law. And they got themselves hanged and imprisoned; and they were heard above the contending clamors of their day. And when the Constitution was written it contained provisions for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.

Modern Quakers continue, as of old, to work from the heart and in the community, but if we are to outshout the Pentagon we will have to use a louder and more urgent voice than we have used heretofore. Perhaps more and more and more of us will have to break the law.

Franklin Zahn also responded to Arrison’s slippery-slope argument: “In practice, the portion of federal income tax for the military is far greater than for any other item. Currently thirty-six percent goes for present costs and another estimated seventeen percent for past wars. Objectors to smaller items would not find withholding worth the bother… [W]ords alone eventually lose all effect if no one ever acts. But if a few other than war objectors choose to refuse, I see no objection to their doing so.”

Sally Primm interviewed Lucy Perkins Carner for the issue. Among other topics, Carner addressed her war tax resistance:

[Q:] “Did you ever consider not paying part of your tax?”

[A:] “Oh yes, for years I’ve taken out of my income tax payment a portion that the Friends Committee on National Legislation says is equal to what the Pentagon gets. Then I write a letter to the income tax people. It’s good propaganda. I send copies to my representatives in Congress and the President.

“I know my failure to pay isn’t going to impoverish the Pentagon, but it’s good propaganda. They go to your bank and get the money. I send them a copy of the letter, too. Some people have refused to give them the information and go to jail as a result, but I’m not heroic. They get it out of my bank every year.

“The bank has a right to charge for that, a service charge. Well, in the last few years, believe it or not, I’ve received a letter from the bank saying they won’t make the charge any more.[”]

[Q:] “Why did they say that?”

[A:] “Well, that just shows you what good propaganda will do. They know why I’m doing it.”

[Q:] “And how long have you done this?”

[A:] “I don’t know; when I became a pacifist, whenever that was [around the end of World War Ⅰ, according to another part of the article —♇]. I don’t even know when the income tax started.”

The issue covered the “New Call to Peacemaking” in which representatives from the three historic “peace churches” (Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren) got together to try to put some oomph behind their peacebuilding efforts. There was actually less about war tax resistance in this article than in much of the mainstream media coverage of the Call — perhaps because the civil disobedience angle was thought to be more newsworthy or attention-catching. Here is where taxes were mentioned in the Friends Journal coverage:

The Friends Committee on National Legislation points out that all the federal income taxes withheld from your paycheck from January 1 to June 23 go for military purposes. Not until June 24 do you begin to support any other part of the budget.

Especially in recent years — in light of increasing military budgets and the trend toward fewer soldiers and more expensive weapons systems — many conscientious objectors have chosen to witness against war by refusal to pay voluntarily those federal taxes that will be used to fund present, past, and future wars. Some have done this by lowering their income below the taxable level; others who owe taxes have refused to pay the portion that would go for the military.

In the same issue, Robert C. Johansen wrote about the challenge of putting forward a pacifist alternative to mainstream political thinking. In the course of that, he wrote:

Even though their goals are radical in the sense of seeking fundamental system change, political moderates will feel most comfortable using conventional means of education, consciousness-raising, lobbying, campaigning, organizing, and personal witness. Those people who have tried such means and found them weak and insufficiently penetrating politically will search for other actions, such as tax resistance and civil disobedience, that convey a seriousness and urgency more equivalent to the threat of planetary militarization.

Maynard Shelly gave the Mennonite perspective in the wake of the New Call conference, and claimed that “[r]esistance to the payment of war taxes is becoming the witness of choice for a growing number of Mennonites.”

Charles C. Walker wrote in to the issue to suggest a token $1 resistance to the Pennsylvania state income tax as a way of protesting against its anticipated adoption of capital punishment.

The issue noted in its calendar that the Media Pennsylvania Friends Meetinghouse would be hosting a “National Military Tax Resistance Workshop” that would be “[i]ntroducing the program and services of the newly organized Center on Law and Pacifism.”