War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in
Is the dilemma facing pacifist Quakers who are asked to pay a war tax best resolved by conscientious objection and civil disobedience, or by lawsuits and lobbying? Both approaches could be found in the pages of the Friends Journal in .
On , the Supreme Court ruled, unanimously, in U.S. v. Lee, that an Amish person who conscientiously objected to the social security system did not thereby have a First Amendment right to opt out of it.
The tax system could not function if denominations were allowed to challenge it because tax payments were spent in a manner that violates their religious belief. Because the broad public interest in maintaining a sound tax system is of such a high order, religious belief in conflict with the payment of taxes affords no basis for resisting the tax.
As a reductio ad absurdum on the losing legal argument, the court noted that if Lee were allowed to assert the right to opt out of social security on conscientious grounds, it would open the door to other similar challenges:
If, for example, a religious adherent believes war is a sin, and if a certain percentage of the federal budget can be identified as devoted to war-related activities, such individuals would have a similarly valid claim to be exempt from paying that percentage of the income tax.
A note in the issue of the Friends Journal noted that this had also slammed the door on the various First Amendment arguments for conscientious objection to war taxes that people had been pursuing:
In the light of a negative judgment rendered by the U.S. Supreme Court against an Amish employer on , the judicial action committee of the General Conference Mennonite Church has recommended to its General Board that a planned suit against the IRS on the issue of tax withholding “be put on indefinite hold.”
Having been turned away by the judicial branch, they decided to double-down on the legislative:
Rather than take a negatively-shrouded course of action at this time, the General Conference committee urged the General Board to make more money available “to promote the World Peace Tax Fund.”
The issue reviewed two books on war tax resistance: Affirm Life: Pay for Peace from the Historic Peace Church Task Force on Taxes, and People Pay for Peace by William Durland. The first of these opened with this challenging statement:
A wedge of contradiction is opening a wide fissure in our peace testimony. While nearly all of us declare ourselves to be conscientiously opposed to war and preparations for war, and while many work tirelessly for its elimination, the overwhelming number of us continue voluntarily to pay for what we openly abhor.
The book, according to the review, covered the “biblical and historical basis for military tax refusal” and presented “a systematic exposition of the proposal for a World Peace Tax Fund.” It also “gives large place to the significance and importance of achieving religious clarity and motivation.” However, “[i]t does not… adequately address the mechanics of military tax refusal.”
That gap was filled by the second of the books, of which the reviewer said: “Most useful, I think, is the section entitled, ‘How to Refuse to Pay the Military Tax.’ ”
The same issue had an obituary for Lois Mae Handsaker which noted: “Before there were any peace marches in , she was apprehended during the picketing of the local post office to protest the use of income taxes for war.”
The issue announced that the Iowa Peace Network would be collecting money withheld from taxes by war tax resisters and using it to buy grain which it would submit to an IRS office in lieu of tactics to “symbolize opposition to taxes for the Pentagon and emphasize the need for funding human services.” The article noted: “In the event that the IRS refuses to accept the grain, it will be donated to local meal programs for the needy.”
Alas, the notice followed-up that news with the silly idea of protesting against war taxes by writing “not for military spending” in the memo field of the check you write to the IRS. “If enough people take this step, a class action suit against the IRS may be filed” — by some sort of magic, one supposes.
At Canada’s Parliament passed a “Constitution Act” which made it yet more independent of the British government. The act enshrined “freedom of conscience and religion” as a fundamental freedom. The Canadian Peace Tax Fund Committee said it was going to “test” this “by assuming that [our legislators] mean we can divert our defense taxes from killing to peaceful uses, on conscientious grounds.” The notice of this, in the issue, didn’t give any details as to how this “test” would take place, but pretty quickly shifted to “hopes” that the legislature would enact a Peace Tax Fund in the spirit of the new Constitution Act, so lobbying may have been all the testing they planned to do.
Similarly vague was the report from the meeting of Carolina Conservative Friends, which decided on “asking ourselves and other American Friends to make some sort of statement against the use of tax money for military purposes, through coordinated activity in filing our returns .” A report on the Lake Erie Yearly Meeting also vaguely mentioned “continued explorations within monthly meetings about war-tax resistance.” Another report on the New York Yearly Meeting said that “[s]ome Friends planned to take further individual action supporting nonregistration and tax refusal.” This consistent vagueness makes me suspect that there was some embarrassment and certainly no consensus about war tax resistance in these meetings.
Trudy Knowles brought things more in the brass tacks direction in the “Memoirs of a War Resister,” an article that concentrated mostly on the plight of Vietnam War veterans in the United States, that she shared in the issue. Her resistance included tax resistance:
I do not pay the federal excise tax on my phone bill which is earmarked for the military. I refuse to pay the 50 percent of my income tax that goes to preparing this country for war. I put this money instead into an escrow account to be held until the government establishes a means by which this money can be used for the peaceful resolution of national and international conflicts — or until they take it by force.
There was a thoughtful overview of the “Holy Experiment” of William Penn’s founding of a colony run on Quaker principles in Pennsylvania by Margaret H. Bacon in the issue. Toward the conclusion, it discussed war tax resistance as a possible way of advancing the experiment:
Through [John] Woolman we come to the most pressing unfinished business of our Holy Experiment: freeing ourselves from complicity in war. Penn and his colonists hoped to govern without weapons, placing their hopes on “seeing what love can do,” as well as on the establishment sometime in the future of the instruments of arbitration, Penn’s Congress of Nations. Neither the personal practice of nonviolence nor the best efforts of the United Nations have yet worked to rid the world of the threat of war, and now time is running out. Earlier Friends were at least able to separate themselves from complicity in preparations for war by refusing to pay militia taxes as well as refusing to serve in the militia. Today the principle of conscientious objection for the bodies of our young men (and perhaps young women) is well established with us, having been pioneered by a handful during the Civil War, a few hundred during World War Ⅰ, and some thousands in World War Ⅱ. The idea of demanding conscientious objector status for our tax dollars is in its infancy.
In the past years, a few courageous souls have refused to pay the government that portion of their federal income taxes that supports war. Today more and more monthly meetings and yearly meetings are beginning to wrestle with the problem. Is it time for the Society of Friends as a whole to get behind this move? Surely if we did it, and the Mennonites did it, and the Brethren did it, we could make a change in the law. Is there not some simple, single forward step that we could make together in ?
Some Friends find this issue complicated, because the graduated income tax supports many good things, and Friends who designate their taxes solely for peace purposes are just making it necessary for others to pay solely for war. The same arguments can be raised against conscientious objection to military service. But is there not a deep and inward side to tax refusal? Do some Friends feel, as Woolman felt, that they cannot pay these taxes and still keep in touch with the living and life-giving Holy Spirit? Let us be tender before we argue with our tax refusers, for they may be pointing our way to new light.
The issue brought the news that “25 members of the Friends House staff in London” had embarked on war tax resistance. The Meeting for Sufferings of London Yearly Meeting agreed to put 34% of the taxes withheld from the objectors into an escrow account, “the intention being to release it to Inland Revenue after assurances that it would be used for non-military purposes.”
An obituary notice of Roberta Dickinson in the same issue noted that “[s]he supported the peace testimony through organized war tax resistance.”
At the meeting of the Friends World Committee for Consultation, that group decided to refuse to submit withheld taxes to the government from its war tax resisting employees (according to a Journal report ).
Walter Ludwig reflected on contemporary and historical Quaker war tax resistance in an article he wrote for the issue. Excerpts:
Members of our meeting [Rahway and Plainfield (New Jersey) Monthly Meeting] several years ago began as individuals to withhold a percentage of their income tax in protest of its use for war. No devastating consequences have resulted. Courteous, almost sympathetic Internal Revenue Service agents have visited one member, telling her a red tab has been affixed to her folder in the file. She hopes the IRS will soon run out of red tabs.
I have withheld the military third, sending it the first year to the American Friends Service Committee and since then to the Quaker Peace Tax Fund, custody of Albany (N.Y.) Monthly Meeting. The first response from the IRS came just . They want the “underpaid tax,” $939.58 in penalty and interest. My refusal to support mass murder will likely be ignored, as have been my explanatory notes of “conscientious deduction” sent quarterly during the past three years
In my letters of refusal I have mentioned membership in the Religious Society of Friends. Do I thereby leave with the IRS the impression that of course Quakers do not pay military taxes, as they once refused to pay tithes to a state church they could not in conscience support? But has refusal to pay taxes for war been within the main stream of Quakerly testimony and practice? May war-tax-resisting Friends today take aid and comfort from a tradition of military tax refusal?
George Fox was clear on the matter. A restored portrait of Fox presents him as a man of property from a well-to-do family with enough investments to give him private means. He paid his taxes.
If we pay we can plead with Caesar and plead with them who hath our custom and hath our tribute. Refuse to pay and they will say: “How can we defend you against foreign enemies and protect everyone and their estates and keep down thieves and murders?”
To bear and carry weapons to fight with… the man of peace cannot act… but have paid their tribute [taxes] which they may still do for peace’s sake… In so doing Friends may better claim their liberty.
Sara Fell kept the Fox family account book after George married her mother, Margaret. Her accounts disclose that the family paid the poll tax to carry on England’s war against the Dutch in . When England fought the French, the entry reads: “ by M paid to the Poll Money by father and mother 1 pound 2 shilling.”
Robert Barclay, foremost Quaker theologian, wrote in :
We have suffered much in our country because neither ourselves would bear arms nor send others in our place, nor give our money for the buying of drums, standards, and other military attire.
Such “trophy money,” as these direct taxes were called, many early Friends refused to pay. Most, however, paid the general or “mixed” taxes even in time of war. Their willingness may be found in the advice of the gathering at Balby encouraging “all who are indebted to the world endeavor to discharge the same.” As Fox put it in , “Keep out of debt; owe to no man anything but love… Pay to Caesar, as to your fellows, what is due.”
[H]omespun-clad John Woolman was given a cool reception by elegant London Friends. They were securely of the propertied class with enterprises in heavy industry and were largely in control of the Atlantic trade. They would not give their persons to the business of war-making, but did they make nice distinctions in how the empire used their tax money in extending colonial rule?
Philadelphia Friends, like London’s, were well placed in government and trade. “The richest,” wrote a visiting London doctor, “talk only about selling of flour and the low price it bore.” Using George Fox as authority, some Quakers tried to persuade others to pay a tax levied for an armed expedition against Canada in . When war with the French and Indians finally came in , John Churchman, Anthony Benezet, John Woolman, and other Friends refused to pay war taxes that were mixed with taxes for civil uses. In extenuation of Fox and early war-tax-paying Quakers in England Woolman said:
To me it appears that there was less danger of their being infected with the spirit of the world than is the case with us now. [They] had had little share in civil government… our minds have been turned to the improvement of our country, to merchandise and the sciences… and a carnal mind is gaining among us.
When ten Quaker members of the Pennsylvania Assembly resigned rather than vote for the War Supply Bill of , the remaining “secular” Friends voted the war taxes and penalties for nonpayment. The abdicating legislators and their supporters in the Society then began close cooperation with Mennonites, Dunkers, and other pacifist groups that carried on through the Revolution.
When military officers appeared in Mount Holly to draft for the French and Indian War, Woolman noted in his Journal, “In this time of commotion some of our young men left these parts and tarried abroad till it was over” (a prelude to Vietnam). Woolman in had recorded his uneasiness about paying war taxes:
A few years past, money having been made current in our province for carrying on wars… by taxes laid on the inhabitants, my mind was often affected with the thought of paying such taxes… To refuse the active payment of a tax which our Society generally paid was exceedingly disagreeable but to do a thing contrary to my conscience appeared yet more dreadful.
Joshua Evans in wrote:
I found it best for me to refuse paying taxes on my estate which went to pay the expenses of war, and although my part might appear at best as a drop in the ocean, yet the ocean, I considered, was made up of many drops.
Committees appointed by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting agreed on an “epistle of tender love and caution to Friends in Pennsylvania” signed by those who felt free to do so and forwarded to monthly and quarterly meetings. It was in keeping with William Penn’s earlier statement, made when he refused to send money to England for war against Canada:
No man can be true to God and be false to his own conscience, nor can he extort from it a tribute to carry on any war, much less offensive, nor ought true Christians pay for it.
I’ve tried many times to track down a source for this Penn quote, with no success.
The war was in full swing when queries sent annually by London Yearly Meeting to English Friends were adopted in by yearly meetings in Virginia, Maryland, Philadelphia, New York, and New England. They asked:
Do you bear a testimony against bearing arms and paying trophy money or being in any manner concerned in privateers letters of mark, or dealing in prize goods as such?
Friends were expected not to pay voluntarily to hire a substitute for military service or voluntarily pay any tax solely and directly for military purposes. Every other tax, even mixed taxes that would be used in part for the military budget, Friends were expected in conscience to pay.
The Revolution shifted the locus of tax-raising authority for Americans from London to state and federal governments. Whereupon Timothy Davis in circulated his tract titled, “Advice of a Quaker to Pay Tax to American Revolution.” War taxes, especially mixed ones, should be paid, wrote Davis, and he quoted a weighty Friend, Thomas Story, who had declared, “If the officer demand tax from me and tell me ’tis to maintain war, I’ll pay it.” Sandwich (Mass.) Monthly Meeting took a dim view of the Davis publication and disowned its author. Quaker books of discipline of the time counseled disowning members who paid war taxes.
During the Revolution Moses Brown reminded Friends:
Our ancient testimonies were and remain to be supportable of paying tribute and customs for the support of civil and yet refuse to pay trophy money and other expenses solely for war.
He suggested Friends might ask, with the war over, for a separation of taxes into their several budget purposes. “If it should be refused we might be united in refusing even those the greater part of which may be for civil uses.”
The clearest Quaker statement on war taxes during the Revolution came from the pen of Samuel Allinson, a young Friend of Burlington, New Jersey. In Allinson circulated manuscript copies of his “Reasons against War and paying taxes for its Support.” War is not a defensible function of civil government, reasoned Allinson, and each generation must apply biblical truths to the issues of its own time. Peace committees of monthly meetings might well spend a session with Friend Allinson’s cogent thinking.
Quaker support of withholders of war taxes was recorded in a minute approved by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting in , reaffirmed in , and used as model for a minute approved by New York Yearly Meeting. It reads, in part:
Refusal to pay the military portion of taxes is in keeping with an honorable testimony, fully in keeping with the history and practice of Friends… We warmly approve of people following their consciences and openly approve civil disobedience in this matter under divine compulsion… We ask all to consider carefully the implications of paying taxes that relate to war-making… Specifically we offer encouragement and support to people caught up in the problem of seizure, and of payment against their will.
The same issue noted that a minute passed at the gathering of the New England Yearly Meeting “supported efforts to establish a World Peace Tax Fund and current forms of war tax refusal.”
Also in that issue was an announcement about the formation of a war tax resisters’ penalty fund:
The Tax Resister’s Penalty Fund is a network designed to distribute the burden of penalties or interest levied against military tax resisters. For example, 200 people would share a $500 penalty at $2.50 each. For information contact TRPF, Box 25, North Manchester, IN 46962.
The fund was still in operation at that address until fairly recently. It has not formally disbanded, though it appears to no longer be operating effectively.