War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1981

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

War tax resistance remained very much on the agenda at the Friends Journal at the beginning of the Reagan era of aggressive military build-up in .

A letter from Jenny Duskey in the issue read, in part:

I belong to a community of disciples called Publishers of Truth. Our testimony is that Christ’s disciples can have no part in war or preparation for war, and that this means not joining the military or being drawn into legally designated “alternatives” to conscription even when the law demands, as well as not paying taxes destined for military use when we can refuse them.

“Publishers of Truth” (see also the advertisement pictured in ) was centered around Larry and Lisa Kuenning, who came to prophesy an emerging paradise on Earth, centered on Farmington, Maine. I’m tempted to do some further research in this direction, but am afraid of getting lost in some interesting by-ways. Lisa Kuenning was a collaborator with Timothy Leary, and for a time an important figure in the psychedelic renaissance. Last I checked, the Kuennings were running Quaker Heritage Press, which specializes in reprints of old Quaker books.

The issue had an in-depth article by Richard K. MacMaster on Christian Obedience in [American] Revolutionary Times, that included a discussion of Quaker responses to war taxes and militia exemption taxes. Excerpts:

The Pennsylvania Assembly voted on to recommend to conscientious objectors “that they cheerfully assist in proportion to their abilities, such persons as cannot spend both time and substance in the service of their country without great injury to themselves and families.” This would be a subsidy to poorer Associators, men who could not supply themselves with a musket and bayonet and needed help from their neighbors. It was a far cry from the kind of nonpolitical relief work that the sects had in mind.

The Continental Congress did not help matters when it decreed in that members of the Peace Churches should “contribute liberally in this time of universal calamity, to the relief of their distressed brethren.” Were these distressed brethren the poor of Boston or poor families in their own neighborhood or George Washington’s makeshift army camped on the hills overlooking Boston harbor?

The Peace Churches took the Congressional resolve as a last-minute reprieve and insisted that their contributions were for the poor, even though the money would be turned over to the County Committee. “For we gave it in good faith for the needy,” a Lancaster County Brethren pastor explained, “and the man to whom we gave it gave us a receipt stating that the money would be used for that purpose.”

The Lancaster County experience was repeated in other Pennsylvania counties and in other colonies where Quakers, Brethren, and Mennonites were numerous. Most communities tried voluntary contributions, but in Frederick County, Maryland, and Berks County, Pennsylvania, the committees levied fines on men of military age who did not drill with the Associators.

The nonresistant sects had fallen into a trap. No matter how they labeled them, the authorities understood their voluntary contributions as donations to the war chest. And if contributions failed to come voluntarily, they were already preparing for compulsory payment of money as an equivalent to military service.

Time was running out on the Peace Churches by . Soon after the elections, military associators began petitioning the Pennsylvania Assembly that

some decisive Plan should be fallen upon to oblige every Inhabitant of the Province either with his Person or Property to contribute towards the general Cause, and that it should not be left, as at present, to the Inclinations of those professing tender Conscience, but that the Proportion they shall contribute, may be certainly fixed and determined.

These petitions asked much more than an increased tax assessment on the conscientious objectors. The petitions explicitly stated that every member of the community had an obligation to make some contribution to the common cause; the additional tax would be a concession to those who could not meet that obligation on the field of battle.

The Peace Churches rightly put their case on the high ground of religious freedom. Quakers expressed their “Concern on the Endeavours used to induce you to enter into Measures so manifestly repugnant to the Laws and Charter of this Province, and which, if enforced, must subvert that most essential of all Privileges, Liberty of Conscience.” They asked the Assembly not to infringe the solemn assurance given them in Penn’s Charter, “that we shall not be obliged ‘to do or suffer any Act or Thing contrary to our religious Persuasion.’ ”

The revolutionary government rose to the challenge. All sixty-six members of the Philadelphia Committee proceeded in a body to the Assembly chamber to present their response to the Quaker address to the Speaker of the House. The same day, the Assembly heard petitions from the Officers of the Military Association of the City and Liberties of Philadelphia and from a Committee of Privates. They first narrowly construed the grant of religious freedom in the Charter and threw out of court the sectarian contention that religion was more than a Sunday worship service.

We cannot alter the Opinion we have ever held with Regard to those parts of the Charier quoted by the Addressors, that they relate only to an Exemption from any Acts of Uniformity in Worship, and from paying towards the Support of other religious Establishments, than those to which the Inhabitants of this Province respectively belong.

The representation from the Committee of Privates went still further. They insisted that “Those who believe the Scriptures must acknowledge that Civil Government is of divine Institution, and the Support of it enjoined to Christians.” Quakers ought not to question what governments did, according to this Committee of Privates, but simply obey; God had ordained the powers and thereby gave sanction to every action of the state. The lines were thus clearly drawn between the sectarian view of supremacy of conscience and the secular view of the primacy of the state.

The Mennonites and Church of the Brethren simply set down the limits of what they could do in good conscience. Their petition made little difference to the course of events. The day after the Mennonite and Brethren statement was read the Pennsylvania Assembly voted to require everyone of military age who would not drill with the Associators “to contribute an Equivalent to the time spent by the Associators in acquiring the military Discipline.” Later in , the Assembly imposed a tax of two pounds and ten shillings on non-Associators, which would be remitted for those who joined a military unit. Under new pressure from the Associators they raised the tax to three pounds and ten shillings in .

The Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention incorporated the principle of taxing conscientious objectors as an equivalent to military service in the Declaration of Rights they adopted. It made explicit what most Patriots already believed:

That every Member of Society hath a right to be protected in the Enjoyment of Life, Liberty and property and therefore is bound to Contribute his proportion towards the Expence of that protection and yield his personal Service when necessary or an equivalent… Nor can any Man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing Arms be justly compelled thereto if he will pay such equivalent.

Participation in warfare was a universal obligation, in their view, falling equally on every citizen; those who could not fight must pay others to fight in their place.…

The Assembly and the Convention clearly intended to make the Peace Churches pay for war and imposed the tax as an avowed equivalent to military service.… Religious pacifists carried the whole burden of the tax. But a tax imposed on conscientious objectors as an equivalent to joining the army and intended for the military budget definitely infringed on the religious liberty guaranteed by William Penn’s Charter. The war tax issue thus arose in a context of freedom of conscience curtailed for those whose Christian faith forbade their “giving, or doing, or assisting in any Thing by which Men’s Lives are destroyed or hurt.”

Maryland and North Carolina followed Pennsylvania’s example in levying a special tax on conscientious objectors; the North Carolina law made payment the grounds for exemption from actual service with the army. Virginia and several other states required conscientious objectors to hire substitutes to take their place whenever their company of militia was drafted for combat duty. Special tax assessments for military purposes passed every state legislature as the war dragged on. And the rapidly depreciating Continental and state paper money that fueled a run-away inflation was itself a war tax. Wherever Quakers, Mennonites, or Brethren lived, the problem of paying for war soon caught up with them

Could a valid distinction be made between military service and war taxes? The Reverend John Carmichael, Scottish Presbyterian pastor in Chester County, Pennsylvania, had little sympathy with the nonresistant sects who refused to pay war taxes, but he saw no distinction between fighting and paying the cost of war.

In Rom 13, from the beginning, to the 7th verse, we are instructed at large the duty we owe to civil government, but if it was unlawful and anti-Christian, or anti-scriptural to support war, it would be unlawful to pay taxes; if it is unlawful to go to war, it is unlawful to pay another to do it, or to go do it.

Some Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers agreed that no real distinction could be made and consequently refused to pay taxes levied for military purposes. In his sermon, Carmichael spoke of Mennonites “who for the reasons already mentioned will not pay their taxes, and yet let others come and take their money, where they can find it, and be sure they will leave it where they can find it handily.” They would not resist the tax collector in any way; but they could not cooperate in wrongdoing by voluntarily paying war taxes. The law took this practice into account and permitted collectors to seize the property of those would not pay their own taxes.

Quakers officially discouraged payment of war taxes and militia fines. Many Friends went to jail for their refusal and still a larger number allowed the authorities to take horses, cattle, furniture, farm implements and tools to pay their taxes. They refused to accept any money from the sale of their goods over and above the tax and fine. In the Shenandoah Valley and in other Quaker communities, their neighbors found rare bargains when the sheriff sold a Quaker farmer’s property for taxes and purposely kept the bidding low. Virginia Yearly Meeting protested to the authorities about the sale of slaves, freed by their Quaker masters in defiance of the law, who were taken up and sold to pay their former masters’ war taxes.

Refusal to pay taxes for military purposes had a close parallel in Quaker refusal to pay taxes to support an established Church; they accepted the right of civil government to appropriate money for either purpose, but denied that civil government could coerce their consciences, even at the cost of jail sentences. This was a minority position among English and American Friends, even after John Woolman prodded their conscience on war taxes. Woolman’s influence can be seen in a circular letter issued by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in , when Braddock’s defeat left Pennsylvania exposed to French and Indian raids and the Assembly ordered new taxes for mounting a fresh campaign. The tax was a general one, including military appropriations with all the other functions of civil governments, but Friends agreed “as we cannot be concerned in wars and fightings, so neither ought we to contribute thereto by paying the tax directed by the said act, though suffering be the consequence of our refusal.” The issue in was much clearer: the taxes were levied entirely for military purposes and intended as an equivalent to military service. With the passage of years, Friends had the meaning of nonresistance in much sharper focus and a much greater number accepted the challenge of faithful discipleship.

Mennonites also responded to the challenge by refusing to pay war taxes. When the Pennsylvania Assembly passed an act in to require a tax of three pounds and ten shillings from everyone of military age who refused to turn out with the militia, Mennonite opinion was divided. Christian Funk, bishop in the Franconia congregation, allowed payment of the tax and tried to convince his brother ministers. But refusal to pay war taxes had taken deep roots in the Mennonite tradition by . The mere rumor that Funk permitted payment of the tax was enough to bring complaints against him at the time of preparation for the Lord’s Supper in and to lead to his ouster from the ministry. All of the preachers and a great many other Mennonites in eastern Pennsylvania opposed payment of the tax. Andrew Ziegler, bishop in the Skippack congregation, spoke for them, when he declared: “I would as soon go into the war, as to pay the three pounds ten shillings if I were not concerned for my life.” Zeigler and others could see little difference between fighting and paying for war.

In the face of a long-standing tradition of paying taxes without questioning the purpose of the tax, men of faith testified from their own conscience that for them there could be no distinction between refusing to fight and refusing to pay for war. These Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers willingly accepted the penalty for their conscientious objection to war taxes in imprisonment and loss of property far in excess of the tax. Their action reminded their brethren of the need for careful discrimination in rendering to Caesar the things that are really Caesar’s. They refused to let a majority vote in the legislature be their conscience and rejected the easy way of confusing Caesar’s will with the will of God.

In the same issue, Bill Durland of the Center on Law and Pacifism reviewed the attempts to get a sympathetic court hearing in the United States for the argument that conscientious objection to military taxation is a Constitutionally-protected right of citizens. He described the founding of the Center in by himself, Robert Anthony, Bruce & Ruth Graves, Barbara & Howard Lull, Peter Herby, and Richard McSorley, and then described the various avenues of appeal the group was pursuing in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Anthony put his legal argument this way: to be compelled to pay war taxes “would force [him] to accept a creed, and practice a form of worship foreign to his convictions, and to establish as the only normative religious belief and practice, that adhered to by most Christian denominations, i.e., that it is both a Christian and an American duty to fight in just wars and pay for them.” The Supreme Court wasn’t interested.

The Center tried again with the Graves’ case, asserting that the First Amendment’s assertion that “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]” means that the governmental interest in having an efficient and uncomplicated tax system is trumped by the citizen’s right to a religious practice that forbids funding war. Again, the Supreme Court turned up its nose.

The Center then made an attempt with the Lulls & Peter Herby as petitioners. As the First Amendment arguments had failed to make any headway, this time they made a Hail Mary pass with a Ninth Amendment argument. “This amendment recognizes that there are certain fundamental, inalienable rights not enumerated in the Constitution which the people possess that are preexisting to any constitution, are inherent in the individual, and are not subject to divestment either partially or completely by the state. These rights have also been called ‘natural’ and are those held by an individual in a state of absolute liberty. In contracting to enter into a state of society, the people collectively, and the person individually, only divest themselves of those natural rights which they expressly relinquish by enumeration.”

Nice try, but the Supreme Court yet again denied cert.

The article notes that in addition to First Amendment-based arguments, “each of the three cases raised at the Federal Court level a compelling legal position based on International Law and, in particular, the Nuremberg Principles.” (Not compelling enough, apparently.)

An article in the same issue, by William Strong, profiles war tax resister Bruce Chrisman. Excerpts:

[H]e cannot pay that portion of his federal taxes that he knows will be used for preparations for war. For that, he is serving a criminal sentence that includes one year of humanitarian service without pay, three years of probation, a fine of $2,400 for court costs, and the payment of all back taxes due. He deems this result a moral victory, however — the sentence could have been up to one year in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Over the years Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s minutes have reflected the repeated return of the war tax concern. In a striking, sensitive minute was approved. The unity reached at that time calls upon “all Friends to continue to search themselves deeply on their responsibility to separate themselves from preparations for war.” Where does that searching lead? “We encourage dialogue between conscientious war tax refusers and other concerned people struggling with the issue of paying war taxes. We seek to build a community of deeply committed persons.” Friends offer their real support — spiritual, moral, legal, and material — to that growing community, and close the minute by reaffirming:

Our strength and our security are derived from our belief in the reality of a loving God and the oneness of that of God in all people. In order to say yes to this belief, we must seriously consider saying no to payment of war taxes.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s “War Tax Concerns Support Committee” works to carry out that minute. Its mandate is broad, from war tax refusal and resistance, questing for administrative (IRS) and judicial relief, to a spectrum of wholly positive approaches. The committee seeks “legislative relief” in pursuing the World Peace Tax Fund law that proposes alternative service for war taxes, for conscientious objectors to monetary conscription.

In the war tax concerns section of our Peace Testimony, as in most fields of Quaker endeavor, certain Friends are ’way out front. They have been going down a committed road for years. George and Lillian Willoughby, Bob Anthony, Lorraine Cleveland, and Robin Harper in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting come to mind. “Not to worry” — most of us are beginners, and we don’t need to catch up.

What stride do we take this year — or this quarter — in the Light? We tackle the big issues by taking the next step, getting a bit more involved.

Saying “no” to that small, lingering, now two percent Vietnam War telephone tax, which does indeed produce a billion dollars in direct war taxes, is one such step. Adjusting our withholding so that we take more control of our tax payments, with more options, is another. Or do we match what the government requires of us in war taxes with comparable contributions to peace organizations? Everyone ultimately decides his own next step, but often it comes out of shared, caring discussion with other Friends, “wrestling as I am, with the harder questions of our faith and practice.”

That issue also had a few short notes that mentioned war tax resistance:

  • “In Japan, COMIT (Conscientious Objection to Military Tax) is planning to sue the government for breach of constitution by taxing for war.”
  • “In Switzerland, 300 people belonging to the group ‘Pour une Politique de Paix Active’ refused to pay their military tax or some part of the duty levied for national defense.”
  • “[N]ine members of the Pacific Yearly Meeting Peace Committee testified ‘against rendering unto Caesar that which is God’s’ by declaring their solidarity with those Friends who refuse to cooperate with war taxes and draft registration. Some seventeen others present at the yearly meeting also signed the statement.”
  • “A statement from Orange County Meeting asks: ‘If we recognize our involvement in militarism through the payment of taxes used for military purposes but do not act to end such involvement, then are we not hypocritical to tell Friends faced with registration to refuse military service?’ ”

The issue included a mention that the Australian Yearly Meeting was pursuing its own Peace Tax Fund plan “as a method of allowing taxpayers to direct a proportion of their tax to peace purposes instead of military spending.”

The issue noted that a “Historic Peace Church Task Force on Taxes is preparing a packet of study materials to provide information on the biblical basis of war taxes and the World Peace Tax Fund… together with suggestions for personal and political action.”

Maurice McCracken wrote in to the issue to chide anti-war activists for their timidity. Excerpts:

Indeed it is a feeble gesture to do what we do not believe in; even though we protest doing it. The only valid protest is resistance and complete noncooperation with what we believe to be wrong.

[A] law… threatens anyone who advises a young man not to register for the draft with the same penalty as the non-registrant — a possible prison sentence of five years and a possible fine of $5,000. In the draft registration resistance movement I find that considerable time is spent on how to counsel young men about registration so it will not appear that we are actually advising them not to register. Why this hesitancy and timidity?

I not only advise young men of draft age not to register. I urge them not to register.

This military juggernaut which threatens to destroy all human life and all animal and plant life on the planet must be stopped. It must be resisted at the point of not filing a federal income tax return and of not registering for the draft. A thief-says, “Your money or your life.” The Pentagon says, “Your money and your life!” I refuse to give either one! Won’t you join me?

In the issue, E. Raymond Wilson tried to envision a “Quaker Peace Program” that would be adequate to the challenges of . He advocated working toward a more powerful U.N., drastic disarmament, global economic/social development with an emphasis on underdeveloped areas, and active reconciliation of global adversaries. Much of this work would involve lobbying and other pleading with powerful people whose inclinations are largely in the opposite direction; but there was also a nod toward conscientious objection:

Friends should seriously consider the recommendations of the Second New Call to Peacemaking Conference that individuals should withhold all or part of their income tax going to military and war appropriations, now estimated at more than forty-eight percent of the budget controlled by Congress.

War tax resistance came up at the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in . War tax resister John Beer wrote down some questions that people had about resisting, and in a Friends Journal issue , Bill Strong (of the Meeting’s “War Tax Concerns Support Committee”) answered them. The questions were:

  • “If we refuse $100 of our federal war taxes and give it to some organization working for peace, what steps will the IRS take?”
  • “What options do we have in dealing with the IRS actions?”
  • “Is the initial letter we send with our tax return, stating the reasons for our tax refusal, important in terms of the subsequent legal proceedings?”
  • “Should we get help from a lawyer or tax refusal group in composing the letter?”
  • “What kind of advice can you provide which will allow us to profit from the experience of those who are already refusing to pay war taxes?”
  • “What happens to persons who refuse war taxes year after year?”

Some excerpts from the answers give a window into how war tax resistance was practiced by Quakers and by Meetings:

Both at Celo (NC) Meeting and at Central Philadelphia Meeting members asked others to share their examination or audit with IRS agents. The first was in the refusers’ home, the latter in a federal office building.…

One Friend has been refusing for 23 years. His witness continues and collection is still in the future, so much of the obligations of the early years have lapsed. Another Friend, whose refusal goes back even further, has had the funds due taken at irregular intervals from her checking account.

A report in the issue noted that the Lake Erie Yearly Meeting in had “considered a minute on war tax concerns” based on queries from the New Call to Peacemaking Conference:

“If we believe that fighting war is wrong, does it not follow that paying for war is wrong? If we urge resistance to the draft, should we not also resist the conscription of our material resources?” The minute concluded: “We reassert the historic peace witness of the Society of Friends. We commit ourselves to wrestle with the contradictions between our testimony and our government’s tax regulations. To continue quiet payment for war preparations is to the conditions for war.” Each meeting was urged to appoint a representative to the World Peace Tax Fund.

Finally, the issue brought a meditation on “the peaceable kingdom” by Susan Furry. She believed that the Kingdom of God, the peaceable commonwealth, was “at hand” as Jesus said it was, and that it was the duty of Christians to “begin to live there.” She reflected on how she came to include war tax resistance in her vision of how to carry this out:

…I felt that I had to begin to look into the question of war tax resistance. This led to a long period of study and self-examination. To me, becoming a war tax resister meant making a final commitment to pacifism, and I didn’t do it lightly. It took a lot of prayer and thought and the help and support of many people in my meeting to bring me to a point of clearness, where I know, solidly and comfortably, that this action is right for me.

Since then I have found myself being led not only to resist war taxes for myself but also to speak about it to others and to offer counsel and support to those who are considering this action. I have helped prepare a packet called “Quakers and War Taxes” which is on sale at my meeting and have been involved in setting up the New England Friends Peace Tax Fund, an escrow fund for tax resisters under the care of my yearly meeting: I’ve been given a lot of encouragement to continue and to grow in my tax resistance activities through the support of others in my meeting, many of whom are not tax resisters themselves but friends who recognize that it is the right thing for me to do. I’ve found that obedience to the divine leading I have felt in this matter has brought me closer to God, has given me new courage, and has opened me to further leadings.

In practical terms, war tax resistance seems to be a futile, irrational, and perhaps risky undertaking. I think by now I’ve probably heard all the possible arguments against it. The only answer I can really give is, “This is something I must do, to be faithful to my conscience and my understanding of God’s will.” For it is part of the foolishness of God, which is wiser than human wisdom, as Paul tells us in First Corinthians. It requires me to acknowledge my dependence on God’s guidance and strength. I don’t know where my action will lead in practical terms, but I trust God to make use of it; I don’t know what the consequences will be for me personally, but I trust God to help me to face them.

In one way or another, perhaps, peacemaking may bring all of us to that place of acknowledging our dependence on God. For me it has come through tax resistance. For another it may come through the old dilemma about Hitler or through an experience of physical violence on the street. In any case one comes to a place where one has to say, “I don’t know what will happen, but I place my trust in the God of love and accept the consequences.”

In coming to rely on God more, I have begun to learn that God really is dependable. I have felt God working through the beautiful support I have received from many individuals and from my meeting. I’ve been to tax court twice and was sustained by a powerful sense of God’s presence. I’ve faced the certainty of financial loss and found that it doesn’t trouble me as much as I feared it would.

However, I still worry about the future; I haven’t reached the point where I can really leave it all in God’s hands. Sometimes I even wonder about going to jail. Right now the government isn’t prosecuting many war tax resisters, but it is always a possibility. My actions are not very unusual; there are over forty war tax resisters in my meeting alone and many more in New England. I know many people who have sacrificed more and taken greater risks for peace than I have. But I have learned that when you follow God one step down the road, God usually asks you to take another step. Who knows what God may ask of me in the future? I have friends who have gone to jail for conscience’ sake, and I wonder if I could face that if it came to me.

My action in refusing to voluntarily pay taxes for war is largely symbolic — like the early Christians who refused to put a pinch of incense on Caesar’s altar. Is it worth the risk to make a symbolic gesture? Such questions take me back to the Christian roots of my faith. I know that my way of thinking about these things and the language I use do not work for everybody, but these are the symbols which make sense to me, so I must use them.