Following Jesus’ Call for Peace. Connecting Episcopalians Doing Justice, Dismantling Violence and Striving to Be Peacemakers.
Jesus is the Prince of Peace who, in the Sermon on the Mount said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Yet we Christians generally act as if working for peace is like tilting at windmills or that peace will arrive with no action required on our part. Both responses betray our identity as Jesus’ followers. Consequently, we live in a more heavily armed and militaristic world than is morally or spiritually justifiable.
We best fulfill our vocation as peacemakers when we identify concrete steps that will move us closer to peace and then join with others to turn those steps from dreams into reality. Pushing the United States toward partial nuclear disarmament is one such step, once a seemingly impossible dream that now seems increasingly possible.
News from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship:
Learn more about EPF:
Episcopal Peace Fellowship – PO Box 4414, Ithaca, NY 14852-4414
312-922-8628 – [email protected]
What are Strategies of War Tax Resistance?
“Let them march all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.” This quote is attributed to General Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State under President Reagan, following the million-person rally for nuclear disarmament in New York City’s Central Park, June 12, 1982. It has been a call to action for many in the peace movement. Folks moved from public protests to the sometimes public & sometimes private act of withholding tax dollars used to pay for war. That money is often redirected to peace related organizations or to an alternative fund held in escrow.
Paying for war is participation in war. When pacifists and conscientious objectors that cannot participate in war decide that they also cannot pay for war, they become war tax resisters. This resistance comes in many forms, some public, some private, but stems from a deeply rooted conviction that war is wrong. The act of resisting is an opportunity for witness. It can also serve as a challenge and an aggravation for the IRS. War tax resistance most often targets the federal government and percentages withheld reflect portions of the federal budget that fund current wars and/or pay for debts from previous wars. A significant portion of our current federal budget (nearly 47% according to www.warresisters.org), fund both current & past military operations. Often, the U. S. Government provides a pie chart that includes trust funds like Social Security to make the military spending appear (somewhat) less significant.
Resistance can take on many forms, including avoidance, redirection, boycott and public protest. Some folks refuse to pay the telephone tax, currently on land line, local service only. They may or may not attach a letter or statement of conscience to their phone bill. Each different company has a different process for resisting the telephone tax. The telephone tax was originally a war tax for the Spanish-American war. It has changed in size and purpose, but currently, the funds go into the general fund and are still accessible by the military.
Other forms of resistance involve the IRS directly. There are many ways to engage the IRS and some have proven to be more successful than others. The general resistance premise is to make your conscience known, wither privately or publically. This list is for your information and by no means suggested or exhaustive, nor is it in order of reported success. If you choose to take action, please speak with a counselor from NWTRCC before you take action.
Ways people resist the war taxes include:
Avoidance- Keep your earning below the taxable income level, so you are not required to file. Or don’t file.
Filing- File as directed and attach a statement of conscience explaining that you are paying under duress. File as directed but refuse to pay a portion of the owed amount calculated by the IRS & attach a statement of conscience explaining that you are not paying because you cannot participate in war. File an altered form, subject to a $5,000 frivolous filing penalty – see below.
Redirection- Take the money the IRS determined that you owe the government and give it to a charity or to an Alternative Fund. Many folks make a very public event of giving their money away instead of giving it to fund government sanctioned violence and killing.
W4 resistance- if you typically get a refund at filing time, adjust your allowances for filing (no longer listed as dependents) so that your money comes back to you, instead of giving the government a yearlong, interest free loan. Then you can make your choices at tax filing time.
War tax resistance is typically not without consequence. Resisters frequently receive letters from the IRS initially about “forgotten payments”. The consequences may escalate over time. More letters, garnished wages, asset seizures (typically bank account funds or retirement funds, but also in very rare instances cars or property). These actions from the IRS to claim assets can often be public, to attach the maximum level of stigma or shame to war tax resisters. Listening to folks tell their stories has convinced me that the consequences rely on a culture of fear surrounding the power of the IRS and are the very definition of intermittent reinforcement. Some resisters hear from the IRS right away, some not for years.
The good news is that there is a statute of limitations on collecting back taxes. The bad news is that very often, the IRS will get their funds in the end, often including a penalty payment. The most upsetting to me was the “frivolous” filing penalty. A tax form that has a message on it or is altered somehow, could be labeled as frivolous filing and have a hefty fine attached. Folks that revealed a deep-seated moral conviction that both killing and paying for killing, are fundamentally wrong, could have a charge of “frivolous” filing and a fine from the IRS. It seems utterly dismissive and offensive to me, and likely to be exactly the intent.
Historically, there have been war tax protests since the start of our nation. This is not new to our current foreign policy or even to the Vietnam War. The U.S. Government currently recognizes Conscientious Objector Military Service status for the historical peace churches including the Mennonites, Amish and the Quakers. There is still no provision for legal objection to Conscientious Objector Military taxation. The National Campaign for Peace Tax Fund is still working on Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, H.R. 2483. Their aim is to have a legal option to pay taxes but the money would not go to the military or parts of the budget that pay for violence.
This weekend I was fortunate to be invited to a regional gathering of Rochester Area Quakers, with presenters who work with the NWTRCC, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Council. It was held at the Gandhi House, part of the M. K. Gandhi Institute, a beautiful and inspiring new facility in Rochester, NY. I had the opportunity to meet with folks who have been war tax resisters since WW2 and with folks just turning the idea over in their minds. It was a powerful experience for me. I have never understood the depth of calling that moves folks to civil disobedience. In Ithaca, I am surrounded by folks that have protested for years, many have been arrested for their beliefs and some have served time for civil disobedience. This weekend I saw with an open heart and with new eyes.
This gathering was an opportunity for me to explore some methods, motives and consequences of the War Tax Resistance arm of the peace movement. Instead of merely collecting information & flyers, eating wonderfully nutritious foods and making common cause with other activists, I was struck by the connections of resistance and relationships. The relationships formed with other activists working for peace is a unifying bond across years and distance. It respects all life with dignity. Some of the participants had been working together since the 1980′s, some since the 1960′s. These folks had a history together and they are also part of making history (and peace) for future generations.