Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen Refuses to Pay Taxes for Nuclear Arms

From the Spokane, Washington Spokesman-Review:

Seattle archbishop will withhold tax

Seattle’s Roman Catholic archbishop says he will withhold half of his personal income tax to protest “our nation’s continuing involvement in the race for nuclear arms supremacy.”

In announcing his decision , Rev. Raymond G. Hunthausen acknowledged that some people will support him while others “will be puzzled, uncomprehending, resentful and even angry.”

The archbishop said he reached his position “after much prayer, thought and personal struggle.”

The amount of income tax he withholds will be deposited in a fund to be used for charitable, peaceful purposes, he said.

“I believe that the present issue is as serious as any the world has faced,” he said in a pastoral letter to the people of the Seattle archdiocese. “The very existence of humanity is at stake.”

The prelate’s action was not unexpected. In a speech at Pacific Lutheran University, he had suggested the possibility of tax withholding as a protest against nuclear arms escalation.

In that speech, Hunthausen said he would “share a vision of yet another action… of a sizable number of people in the state of Washington — 5,000 or 10,000 or half a million people — refusing to pay 50 percent of their taxes in non-violent resistance to nuclear murder and suicide.”

The stand propelled the archbishop into a national role in the peace movement.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said she did not know the amount of tax that would be due from the archbishop on , the deadline for filing federal income tax returns.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, persons who refuse to pay taxes on constitutional, religious or moral grounds “can anticipate strict civil and criminal enforcement of the laws.” Conviction can mean fines up to $10,000 and up to five years in prison.

In the pastoral letter, Hunthausen said he could not “support or acquiesce to a nuclear arms buildup which I consider a grave moral evil.”

He cautioned: “I am not suggesting that all who agree with my peace and disarmament views should imitate my action… I prefer that each individual come to his or her own decision on what should be done to meet the nuclear arms challenge.”

The archbishop disputed the charge by some that it would be immoral to disobey the law of the state for a good end. He said that in certain circumstances, civil disobedience may be an obligation of conscience.

An Ellensburg Daily Record article based on a United Press International dispatch added some more details:

[Hunthausen] said in a statement to the archdiocese, “I am not attacking my country. I love my country.…”

Father Michael Ryan, chancellor of the archdiocese, said the archbishop pays income tax on his personal salary, which he would not disclose.

In his letter… Hunthausen said…

“I urge all of you to pray and to fast, to study and to discuss and then to decide what you shall do to combat the evil of the nuclear arms race.”

Dick Wighman, public affairs spokesman for the IRS in Seattle, described Hunthausen’s decision as an “ineffective action.”

“All tax money goes into the general fund and is divided in proportion to different programs. You are withholding from aid to schools, roads, from all programs,” he said.

A Spokesman-Review follow-up by reporter Jim Camden read:

Bishop holds nuke share of his taxes

Admitting that the $450 or so in taxes he won’t pay is mainly symbolic, Seattle Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen said that tax protest is a response to the arms race.

But it is not the response, he said.

Hunthausen, in Spokane for a speech at Gonzaga University, said in an interview that his personal protest — withholding half of his federal income taxes — will not become official until , the tax deadline.

He has not heard from the Internal Revenue Service, and IRS officials say he won’t until after the deadline passes.

His tax forms have not been completed, but he expects to have about the same tax liability as , about $900 for a salary of $9,000. Half of that, about $450, is what he said he will refuse to pay in protest over the nuclear arms race.

“The 50 percent figure is somewhat arbitrary,” Hunthausen said.

The federal government estimates that 29 percent of its budget will go for defense related spending. Critics of the military content, however, that because of differences in accounting procedures between various federal programs, military spending accounts for nearly 60 percent of the tax dollar.

About one third of all defense spending goes for nuclear arms research, development and deployment, some military analysts have estimated.

Hunthausen said he was prepared to take the consequences of his action. He has studied other tax protests by religious groups, but has not discussed his decision with an attorney.

The maximum penalties for failure to pay income taxes are fines of up to $10,000 and jail terms of up to five years.

But an IRS official in Seattle said she knew of no one in the Pacific Northwest who has been jailed for a tax protest.

A tax protest would not work for everyone concerned about nuclear arms proliferation, Hunthausen said.

Since he is self-employed, he has control over his payroll deductions that the average worker does not.

But Hunthausen said he isn’t advocating that everyone follow his action.

“I’m trying to arouse people,” said the archbishop, who called the nuclear arms buildup a “grave moral evil.”

His announcement has aroused many people in his congregation. Hunthausen said he was currently “getting more register of support than resistance” from people in his archdiocese.

“I’m asking people to find their own personal way.”

If they agree that such weapons are needed, then their personal way would be to pay their taxes and support the arms race, he said.

Those who want an end to the arms race might consider prayer, fasting or writing their Congressional delegates, he said.

Hunthausen also said he is not encouraging those who wish to avoid paying taxes to use such action for their own personal gain. He plans to deposit the unpaid portion of his taxes in a charitable fund that promotes peace.

To those who would say it is dangerous for the United States to unilaterally drop out of the arms race, Hunthausen says such action requires “a dimension of faith.”

“We’re putting our faith in this weaponry. We just don’t seem to let God into the equation.”

Hunthausen said that dropping the country’s nuclear weapons may be risky, but continuing to build weapons that can destroy hundreds of thousands of people is even riskier.