Friends and War Taxes

Tax season is in full swing—and that brings up duties and anxieties for all of us. For Friends, it also generates some worry as we deal with our ambivalent relationship with our government. Friends historically have held reservations about what has been a growing part of the government’s budget: military expenditures.

In general, Friends support and acknowledge the role of government and that governments sometimes need to be coercive, which includes a policing function. Many Friends also support internationally authorized enforcement actions against criminal acts elsewhere in the world. On the other hand, many Friends are appalled by the extent to which states pursue selfish aims, weapons multiply, economies become military-dependent, and international institutions are left to languish while an ethos of fear and self-absorption that is labeled militarism (or empire) grows and perpetuates itself.

Historically, many Friends have refused to participate in armed forces, and occasionally Friends, in an organized way, have refused to pay taxes to finance military activity. But mostly, especially in recent years, only a few individuals, acting on the basis of individual conscience, have refused to pay taxes that are "mixed"—i.e. where one cannot determine which monies are funding which functions of government. These individual Friends have sometimes received endorsement from their meetings, and on occasion, meetings (including yearly meetings) have gone so far as to encourage individual Friends generally to think seriously about tax resistance.

In this issue of Friends Journal, we offer several articles that address this subject. At the center of them is a moral dilemma: how can those of us who are clear that our government is pursuing an immoral, militarist course live with our consciences in the knowledge that we are funding this activity? What is required of us? What are our real choices? What is our most effective response? And, at another level: are we required only to be faithful to our consciences, and to leave the consequences in God’s hands?

For eight years—from tax year 1979 to 1986—my wife, Roma, and I refused to pay the military portion of our federal income tax, as calculated by Friends Committee on National Legislation. We donated the refused amounts to various causes that we felt were appropriate. During these years I was employed by Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. Eventually, the IRS came to my employer and sought to levy my wages for the owed amounts. Much searching resulted, and the yearly meeting, while declining to turn over the funds, placed them in a separate account and did not hide them. Eventually, they were attached. And in 1987, Roma and I prayerfully considered our course, sensed that we were no longer led to this resistance, and settled with the IRS, paying a substantial amount of interest and penalties. We followed a leading, and the leading changed for us. In the entire process, we were supported and nurtured by my monthly and yearly meeting (I am a Friend, Roma is not)—but it was our leading, supported by meetings, not the meetings’ leading.

And that is part of the question in these articles. It is not just about what individuals can do, and should do. It is also about what all Friends can and should do—together. How are Friends led today?