Tax Resistance in the American Catholic Press, 1947–71

Here are some excerpts from The Catholic News Archive concerning tax resistance, from sources other than Catholic Worker, from the span:

First, a typed news dispatch from “M. Massiani,” Paris Correspondent for the National Catholic Welfare Council (U.S.) News Service, dated :

Priests and People of Vendee, France, Protest Tax on Christian Schools and Refusal of State Aid

A delegation of 20,000 citizens from various parts of the Department of Vendee, one of the most Catholic regions of France, appeared in the town of La Roche-sur-Yon, where a number of priests were on trial for refusing to pay a tax exacted on entertainments and theatrical productions given to aid in supporting the free Christian schools of the Department.

A large group of priests and directors of Christian schools purposely decided to refuse payment of this tax and made public announcement of the decision in order to protest what is regarded by the people of the Vendee as a highly inequitable situation; the state taxing the people to support unneeded public schools, refusing to grant a subsidy to aid in maintaining the Christian schools, and at the same time taxing entertainments held to raise money for support of the Christian schools.

It is pointed out that in Vendee public schools are practically empty. The Christian schools, on the other hand, are educating the vast majority of the children of the region, saving the state more than 200 million francs in school taxes annually. Yet whenever Catholics hold a festival to raise funds for support of their schools, the state intervenes to collect part of the receipts.

It is hoped that in refusing to pay this tax, public attention will be called to the injustice and the need of a state subsidy to help support the Christian schools, such as is granted in other countries, including Belgium and Holland.

Bishop Antoine Cazaux of Lucon, who went to La Roche-sur-Yon to testify in behalf of the defendants, stated that his priests are neither rebels nor evaders, and that the court, in order to judge equitably, should take into consideration the unjust situation that exists with regard to education. Many thousands of people were in the streets outside the courtroom.

Decisions were rendered in only two of the cases, the defendants being acquitted on procedural grounds. The other cases were postponed. The action of the court caused anti-religious groups and newspapers, particularly in Paris, to demand that new suits be instituted and that the law be applied with severity.

In the Diocese of Lucon, two-thirds of the children attend the 461 primary religious schools. In six large districts, 13,757 children out of 15,183 are enrolled at the Christian schools. In two other districts, the number of pupils in the public schools is only three per cent of the total. In 41 settlements in the Department, with a population of 40,000, there are no public schools.

A National Catholic Reporter editorial (signed by editor Robert C. Hoyt) in the issue recommended that men refuse military service, concluding that in Vietnam, “we are killing people and destroying a culture without adequate justification, without a rationale that meets the minimum requirements of morality. That imposes obligations on all of us. We believe that anyone who despairs of a political solution has a right and duty to search for more effective ways, including civil disobedience and tax refusal. We have a responsibility to the rest of the world, to history, to God that nobody else can bear.”

In its issue, that paper published a lengthy article on the war tax resistance movement:

Protesters turn to taxes to fight against the war

By Gary MacEoin

Protesters against the Vietnam war are turning to the withholding of taxes as a way of fighting against the war.

A national campaign against the payment of taxes used for the war is being organized and its goal is to involve “tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of people in conscientious tax refusal.”

The campaign is spearheaded by the War Tax Resistance, an organization founded which draws support from a broad spectrum of pacifist groups. Its headquarters is in New York and it has offices in Philadelphia and Chicago.

Resistance spokesmen say they hope to have “at least a phone, an address and a contact person” in each of the principal 50 to 100 cities in the nation by . Groups organized around such regional centers are to focus their tax resistance efforts on demonstrations on and .

“We picked the date more or less arbitrarily,” said Bradford Lyttle, clean-shaven and soft-spoken coordinator of War Tax Resistance. “That’s about the time that thousands of accountants all over the country hang out signs offering to help prepare tax returns. We want to provide an option for those who want not to pay.”

The choice of is more obvious, he said. “It is both the final day for filing tax returns and the start of the Spring offensive of the demonstrations against the war in Vietnam.”

Lyttle, 42, works out of an office in Lower Manhattan (339 Lafayette Street). It is also the home of the New York GI Coffeehouse, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, the Catholic Peace Fellowship, the War Resisters League, Win magazine (hippie-pacifist), and Liberation magazine (David Dellinger’s voice). Between them, they occupy the two top floors of a three-story cold-water walk-up not far from the Catholic Worker.

Organized resistance to paying war taxes is not new, dating from , Lyttle said. The War Tax Resistance is trying to give the idea broader appeal by modifying the totally pacifist position that its forerunners had adopted.

Lyttle, who himself is a pacifist, said the new approach was developed by a New York teacher, Norma Becker, who recruited a group of sponsors which included Joan Baez, Noam Chomsky, Tom Cornell, Dorothy Day, Dave Dellinger, Allen Ginsberg, Stewart and Charlotte Meacham, Grace Paley and Dr. Benjamin Spock.

“The result,” says Bradford Lyttle, “was a new emphasis. Instead of stressing the total pacifist tradition as the others had done, we decided to concentrate on two more immediate and obvious reasons: the horrors of the war in Vietnam, and the misuse of the taxpayers’ money by the government to the extent that it was neglecting national priorities.

“And instead of calling on sympathizers to pay no taxes whatever, we appealed to them to make a token withholding, if only $5, without of course ceasing to urge those who had the moral courage to go further.”

War Tax Resisters chose as their prime targets the 10 per cent surtax and the 10 per cent federal excise tax on telephone service — two taxes more clearly linked to Vietnam than any others.

Both War Tax Resistance and other organizations distribute literature explaining the various ways — some legal, some doubtful, some illegal — for nonpayment of federal taxes. The first War Tax Resistance leaflet was prepared for the antiwar demonstration in Washington, D.C., , and 10,000 copies were handed out there.

“The act of war tax resistance creates a confrontation between the government and the conscience of the citizens,” this pamphlet states. “We believe that the right of conscientious objection to war belongs to all people, not just to those of draft age… Do whatever makes sense to your conscience. But do it.”

Among the ways to avoid paying taxes, the first is to earn an income so low as not to be taxable. This means for the single person under 65, an earned income of less than $900 annually. Yet a considerable number of pacifists choose this method.

Another form of protest is to refuse to pay the percentage of the tax that goes for war. More than two-thirds of the federal budget pays for wars, past, present and future. This is the amount some withhold. Others refuse to pay the proportion of the federal budget (23 per cent) directly allocated to Vietnam, while others hold back a token amount.

According to Internal Revenue Service figures, 73 million Americans paid their income taxes in full , while 1,025 refused to pay all or part in protest against the Vietnam war. The 1,025 protesters was an increase from 592 .

IRS counted 10,511 cases of refusal to pay the telephone tax in , down from 14,396 in . Several factors combine to make the telephone tax the attractive target it has become.

For one thing, the American Telephone and Telegraph Co. has handled the situation with kid gloves. So long as the protester makes it clear to the company with each payment that the amount withheld is the tax portion, it will not cut off a phone. Printed forms are made available by the resistance groups to facilitate this notification. What the telephone company does is simply to report to IRS the fact of nonpayment and the amount.

IRS also is anxious to keep the situation as cool as possible, but it wants at the same time to maintain whatever pressure is necessary to dissuade the hesitant from joining the movement. Back in 1967, the first step was to send the defaulter a “notice of preliminary assessment” which enabled him to demand a hearing. Because of the number of cases involved and the small amount in each, the IRS quickly eliminated this step and moved immediately to Form 17-A or some other “notice of final assessment.” This notice contains a threat to seize property to collect a debt.

Ralph Di Gia of War Resisters League is one who has been through this process several times.

Early in , for example, the IRS computer at Andover, Mass., sent him Form 17 demanding payment of $2.25 owed as telephone tax. Next a New York agent wrote him, then called on him in his New York office. After checking with Di Gia’s landlord and the building superintendent to establish his political views, the agent tried to place a lien on his salary at the War Resisters League, but the League refused to cooperate.

After another confrontation with Di Gia, which merely established that it was “the principle,” not the $2.25, that was at issue on both sides, the agent located Di Gia’s bank account and collected the $2.25 plus 6 per cent interest. Under the IRS code, it can take money from a bank account without a court order in payment of taxes due by the account holder.

Apparently the discovered account was then fed into the computer, because another section of IRS moved quickly to seize the entire balance in payment of income tax. And as of , the IRS located a savings account recently opened by Di Gia in another bank and collected yet another telephone tax bill. But Di Gia insists that he doesn’t mind.

“The issue isn’t withholding money from the government,” he says. “They’re going to get it ultimately. But I made a few collection agents think about what their job’s about, and now IRS is going to have to realize that there are people who aren’t afraid to resist. They got the tax, but they had to come and get it, like when the agents had to go to the fields in France for collection.”

Unpaid taxes, whether telephone or income, can result not only in seizure from a bank account but also a lien on salary or the attachment and sale by auction of some property, usually an automobile.

In addition, some banks make a service charge — as high as $10, reportedly each time a lien is placed on an account, and the resisters suspect that IRS is pressuring banks to do this as a deterrent. Such a fee every month would make telephone tax refusal impractical for most people. But actually, the load on the IRS is such that it usually moves against any given individual only at much longer intervals.

Everyone who refuses to pay any taxes he owes is actually exposing himself to heavy penalties, and the resistance literature spells out this danger very openly. Simple “willful failure to pay” is punishable by fine up to $10,000 and a year in jail, plus the cost of prosecution. Similar or greater penalties are available for a variety of related offenses.

Although the offense of counseling or urging others not to pay taxes would seem greater than the simple act of withholding, the law on this point is somewhat ambiguous and apparently has never been tested in the courts.

There are few, if any, cases of conscientious tax refusers being jailed for not paying taxes or filing returns. Most of the small number of cases on record have resulted from related non-cooperation with the courts, such as ignoring a court order to disclose financial records.

In addition, it would appear that prosecutions have been initiated by local collectors who did not first check with headquarters. Current IRS policy on this issue apparently stops short of court action.

The most distinguished American to go to jail for refusal to pay taxes was Henry David Thoreau, the essayist, poet and naturalist. He spent only one night in confinement, because a neighbor paid the tax, but the experience inspired his essay on Civil Disobedience, espousing the doctrine of passive resistance. It deeply influenced Gandhi and has become the bible of the resistance movement. One passage is found to be particularly relevant by today’s resisters:

“When… a whole country is unjustly overrun and conquered by a foreign army, and subjected to military law, I think that it is not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize. What makes this duty the more urgent is the fact that the Country to overrun is not our own, but ours it the invading army.” The reference is to the Mexican War of .

About half a dozen have been jailed in the past 20 years. Juanita Nelson was arrested in Philadelphia in , threatened with a year in jail and $1,000 fine if she did not disclose certain financial information, but in fact was held only some hours.

Maurice McCrackin, arrested in Cincinnati in , was given a mental test, imprisoned “indefinitely” on a contempt charge, then sentenced to six months and a $250 fine. James Otsuka got 90 days and a $140 fine in Indianapolis, in . Eroseanna Robinson, sentenced to a year and a day in Chicago in , was released unconditionally after 93 days. Walter Gormley got 7 days in Cedar Rapids in .

And in the first such imprisonment in several years, Neil Haworth of New London, Conn., got 60 days in for refusal to produce records. He had served six months in for “committing civil disobedience at a missile site” near Omaha. And in , he was a crew member of Everyman Ⅲ, a boat which sailed to Leningrad to protest the Russian nuclear tests.

Those who have refused to pay federal taxes and have got away with it include the Catholic Worker settlement houses and the settlement house of the New England Committee for Non-Violent Action. “We pay local taxes,” says Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker, “and we let the IRS people examine our records, but we pay them nothing.” The New England group says that IRS has spent thousands of dollars going through their bills and receipts, without collecting a penny.

War Tax Resistance is now urging citizens “to sue the government to refund all your taxes on the grounds that the taxes have been used for illegal and immoral purposes.” The main value of such suits to date has been the publicity.

Professor Donald Kalish, chairman of the philosophy department at UCLA, filed a suit to recover his telephone tax but it was dismissed by the District Court. He appealed, and the appellate court has agreed to hear his appeal.

The most important case to date is that of Walter C. Pietsch, of Rego Park, N.Y., a 33-year-old administrative employee in a hospital. Last year, he instituted “a class action” for an injunction to enjoin IRS from collecting the 10 per cent surtax and all other taxes used to propagate the war, and also for a declaration that the Vietnam war was unconstitutional. A class action, if successful, would provide the same remedy for all taxpayers.

Pietsch, who served in Korea, “is not against all wars, just this one.” The surtax he withheld was $190.84. “The amount is insignificant,” he said, “It’s the principle I’m fighting for.” After a preliminary hearing in the Brooklyn federal district court on , written arguments were submitted on , and on the case was dismissed on a motion by the defendants. An appeal was filed immediately.

Although the Vietnam war is the direct issue on which tax resisters are concentrating, many of them insist that the campaign has escalated into something much bigger — the war mentality behind much of United States foreign policy. “Maybe it’s a hang-up,” says Ted Webster, administrator of the Roxbury War Tax Scholarship fund, “but I personally have a great feeling of urgency, it seems the logic behind bombing North Vietnam can be so easily applied to China. The influence of the Pentagon on policy, and the political expediency of yielding to it seems so obvious, I see the need to rapidly escalate resistance, or there will be a greatly expanded war — maybe with China — within one to three years.”

Another National Catholic Reporter article, from the issue, asked “In the name of God, how did Milwaukeeans get so radical?” A section of it covered tax resisters:

One area in which a number of community members are discussing is tax resistance. Some say they have claimed as many exemptions as were needed to keep from paying any federal taxes used to finance the war.

[Richard W.] Zipfel, who is defense committee chairman for the Chicago 15, Feit and Father Robert W. Dundon, a Jesuit, have sent a letter to the Wisconsin Telephone Co. stating they are refusing to pay the federal telephone tax on their phone bills because “we can no longer tolerate our nation spending more than $75 billion on the military while our cities die.”

The letter, dated , added that “even if the present war ended, our policies would quickly create another Vietnam.”

Their resistance gesture is significant, they said, because the tax was argued through Congress as a specifically Vietnam war tax. They have reserved a reply from the utility saying their letter was being forwarded to the government.

“I do believe in the legitimacy of the magistrates,” [Michael] Cullen said. “In paying property taxes, I believe in the state.

“I’ll render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but when Caesar decides to take what is God’s, or if Caesar decides to look like God or act like God, I won’t render to Caesar.

“You only render to what is legitimate and what is human, and what is for the common good. War destroys humans.”

Milwaukee’s Casa Maria Catholic Worker House still looks to be something like a hotbed of war tax resistance, at least relative to the current national lull. Lincoln Rice of Casa Maria is the current NWTRCC coordinator. I recognize the names of war tax resisters Roberta Thurstin and Don Timmerman among their volunteers as well.

From the Pittsburgh Catholic, :

Five say they won’t pay taxes

Five local clergymen handed in their income tax forms at the Federal Bldg. downtown on with the announcement they were withholding a portion in protest to the Vietnam War.

Joining them in the protest at the Internal Revenue Office there were several dozen local lay members of War Tax Resistance, an organization whose members carried out withholding actions in a number of cities , the last day for filing income tax returns. It is headquartered locally at 3601 Blvd. of the Allies.

The clergymen issued a statement denouncing the Vietnam war as immoral and stating other means of protest had been futile. “Now we must do more than talk. The time is now that we must act,” they said.

They included three priests active in civil rights causes here: Fr. Donald C. Fisher of St. Francis de Sales, McKees Rocks; Fr. Donald W. McIlvane, St. Richard’s, Hill District; and Fr. John O’Malley of St. Joseph’s, Manchester. Also taking part was Fr. Bernard Survil of St. Hedwig in Smock, Greensburg Diocese.

Protestant clergy included Rev. Oscar L. Arnall, a Lutheran, Rev. Thomas Whitcroft, an Episcopalian, and Rev. William S. Richard, a Presbyterian, signed the statement but weren’t present.

The clergymen announced they were withholding 25 per cent of their income tax, the proportion of the national tax that is estimated goes for the Vietnam war, they said. Some said they would pay the money into local community action programs suffering because of the amounts given to the Vietnam war.

“We are conscious of our obligation to pay taxes, but we are equally conscious of our obligation before God to refuse to cooperate with evil,” the clergymen said.

The National Catholic Reporter, in its issue, printed the following letter from Robert Calvert of War Tax Resistance:

Tax resisters suggest: “Stop paying for it”

To The Editors:

Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos… young people by the hundreds of thousands are rebelling in disgust and anger against the squandering of lives and resources in an immoral and illegal war. They are risking their freedom, careers and often their lives to protest and resist what they see to be wrong.

We, as participants in war tax resistance, are resolved to confront our own complicity in war, waste and callousness. We resolve to end to the extent possible our cooperation in a federal tax program geared to death more than life.

For every dollar which the administration expects to spend in , 64.8 per cent will go for wars — past, present and future. Of this amount, 48.4 per cent will go for current military expenditures, including Vietnam. (The administration has not revealed the exact costs of the Indochina war.) Another 17 per cent will go to health, education and welfare; 18.2 per cent for other expenditures.

The deadline for paying income taxes is close, . Many who read this letter will owe the federal government money. Don’t pay. War tax resistance is being supported by numerous civil rights, anti-poverty and peace organizations in our call to help end the war by widespread tax refusal. Widespread tax refusal does more than force the government to spend much money to try to collect unpaid taxes. It confronts the government with the political fact of massive non-cooperation with its war-making policies.

We need to dramatize war tax resistance and to expand it from an act of individual conscience to a nationwide demonstration of collective civil disobedience.

On , the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice — which includes such groups as the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the National Welfare Rights organization, the American Friends Service committee and the Fellowship of Resistance — is calling for a nationwide “Tribute in Action to Martin Luther King.” The theme is “Freedom from Hunger, War and Oppression”; the event will be observed by hunger marches, fasts, teachins, demonstrations and religious services.

War tax resisters will relate to these events in a real way. We are asking people to refuse to pay $10 to $50 or more of their federal income taxes, and to publicly turn this money over to a local community group on . We will thus take our tax money out of the hands of the government and put it into the hands of the people. If we work hard thousands of dollars can be rechanneled to the people. We can not wait for the government to change priorities. We must change them ourselves.

Find out what actions are being planned in your city or region and build a demonstration dramatizing the transfer of funds to useful community programs. A possible action: Rally at the IRS office where people put their tax money into a container of some sort. The money is then carried to the main event and is turned over to the designated local community group.

There also will be actions at Internal Revenue Service offices across the country on . We will publicly submit our 1040 forms to the IRS with all or part of our taxes deducted. This is a simple action and serves as an extension of the observance.

If no action appears to be under way in your community, contact the nearest war tax resistance center or the People’s Coalition office (1029 Vermont avenue, Washington, D.C.). Information about the WTR center nearest you, and about other forms of tax resistance, may be obtained from War Tax Resistance, 339 Lafayette street, New York, N.Y. 10012; telephone (212) 477‒2970.

Thousands are already engaged in these acts of peaceful, conscientious civil disobedience. If you engage in any of the above acts of civil disobedience we strongly urge you to write a letter to the IRS setting forth the reasons for the steps you have taken. Keep a copy.

Although there is a penalty for openly refusing to pay federal taxes (Section 7203 of the Internal Revenue Code — a fine of up to $10,000 and up to a year in jail, plus the costs of prosecutions) no war tax resisters have been prosecuted under this law. The only war tax resisters arrested have been those who have filed “fraudulent” W-4 forms, refused to file any income tax form, refused to present financial statements to the courts when ordered to do so. There have been prosecutions and convictions based on Section 7203 but none for openly refusing to pay for conscientious reasons, as far as we know.

We invite all Americans to join us in some form of war tax refusal. We must now take a stand by refusing to support the governments destructive policies with our bodies, our skills and our money.

Robert Calvert
New York, N.Y.

Editor’s note: The writer is a member of the Working Committee of WTR. Among sponsors of the organization are Dorothy Day, Joan Baez, David Dellinger, Arthur and Cathy Melville, the Rev. Richard J. Neuhaus, Rabbi Michael A. Robinson, Noam Chomsky, Peter Seeger and Theodore Roszak.

An op-ed from Eugene C. Bianchi, in the National Catholic Reporter:

“Maybe next year…”

To resist or not to resist

Two TV tableaus recently jarred me into fresh appreciation of how my tax money fosters the insanity of Vietnam.

In one film, helicopter gunships swooped down on a truck convoy; thousands of rounds of computer-directed cannon fire pierced the night. There goes at least one year’s withholding tax, I thought. But the commentator saw this military exercise as a demonstration of admirable killing efficiency. It was so orderly and precise; nothing out of place, except perhaps some Vietnamese flesh and bone.

The second scene showed men carefully loading bombs into B52s. The calm reporter noted how effectively these marvels of American know-how worked. The big bombs tore open huge craters and sent waves of damaging concussion. The antipersonnel bombs spewed thousands of body-ripping nails. As I viewed the distant puffs of smoke, I mused about how many income tax returns it took to accomplish such a feat.

It’s appalling how resigned we are to this insane use of our financial resources. Yet my and your tax money is closely related to the terrible statistic from the Kennedy subcommittee about 325,000 Indochinese, civilian deaths in recent years. Many more are maimed and driven from their homes. When I drop that IRS envelope through the red and blue bomb bay of the mail box, I wonder how many sad faces I’ve put behind the fences of relocation camps, how many children I’ve separated from parents. If Mr. Nixon is a prime candidate for war crimes according to the Nuremberg principles, we have all in some degree had our hands on the tax trigger.

Yet my courage rarely equals my insights. I also tell myself that some tax money goes for good causes. But the spirit of Ammon Hennacy, that holy maverick against war, won’t let me be content with such dodges. The whole Catholic Worker crowd stares up at me from their penny paper. I finally summon up the mouselike courage of refusing to pay the telephone war tax. At least that will cost the government more in time and bother than they’ll eventually get from me.

Maybe next year around income tax time, I’ll be brave enough to risk other concrete gestures. The words of Thoreau won’t go away: “If a thousand men were not to pay their tax bill this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure as it would be to pay them and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”

War tax resistance, though only a small act before the mighty state, could have broad effects if it became more widespread. It has the educational effect of conviction in action. Such tax resistance is illegal; but the war, by an ever-growing consensus, is enormously more illegal and immoral. Even token refusal to pay war taxes confronts the government with a concrete statement about its brutal policies. Tax resistance also awakens conscience to active non-complicity, to a new level of sensibility. For the situation is overwhelmingly clear: Tax money can be as killing as the weaponry it buys.

Since some risk is involved in tax resistance, it is worth reading a brochure or two about it. These can be easily obtained from a number of peace action groups, such as the War Tax Resistance (339 Lafayette St., New York 10012; or War Resisters League-West, 833 Haight St., San Francisco 94117). A Catholic group, Ammon’s Tax Associates (Box 1744, Indianapolis, Ind. 46204) is striving to awaken church institutions to their responsibilities for supporting conscientious tax resisters, as an extension of the church’s respect for conscientious objectors.

Perhaps the American church will end its complicity of silence with the warmakers when enough of us try to stop our own complicity in war taxes.