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‘War Taxes’ Is a Complicated Topic

Peter Phillips’ article, “What is the Quaker Testimony on ‘War Taxes’?” (FJ Feb.), is problematic in at least four respects.

First, it is not possible to determine from this article the Quaker testimony on war taxes. (That should be no surprise, since it would take a longer treatise to answer that question. An important historical perspective is provided in an amicus brief commissioned by the New York Yearly Meeting in 2007; see http://​www​.cpti​.ws/​c​o​u​r​t​_​d​o​c​s​/​u​s​a​/​j​e​n​k​i​n​s​/​s​c​/​n​y​y​m​_​a​m​i​c​u​s​.​t​o​c​.​h​tml).

Second, the author questions whether there is any clear definition of “war taxes.” It would take a more detailed presentation to deal with this important consideration. A persuasive case can be made that “war taxes” can be defined; that there is a larger category, “military taxes,” which can also be defined (military taxes pay for military systems, even when a nation is not engaged in fighting a war); and that there is Quaker testimony concerning each of these.

Third, the author appears to focus principal attention on the issue of war tax resistance (certainly a legitimate focus), but there are three other aspects of Quaker testimony relating to war taxes and military taxes besides war tax resistance. These include (a) keeping one’s income below taxable level; (b) working judicially to persuade the courts to recognize the right of conscientious objection to war taxes and military taxes (bearing in mind that U.S. courts have thus far decided negatively on this issue: see U.S. v. Lee, U.S. Supreme Court, 1982; and Jenkins v. Commissioner of IRS, 2d Circuit Court of Appeals, March 6, 2007); and © working legislatively to persuade Congress to establish in law the right of conscientious objection to military taxation (see http://​www​.peacetaxfund​.org). Also, there is another aspect of Quaker witness having to do with paying for war, not related to the mandatory aspect of paying taxes, but to the voluntary aspect of paying for war through the purchases and investments that one makes.

And fourth, while Phillips’ article principally poses a series of questions, one is left with the impression that the author’s answer to the question posed in the title is that Quakerism, in its communal advice, advises us not to engage in war tax resistance, but to be willing to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s—that war tax resistance is not an effective way to protest war and will have the negative effect of denying funds to constructive societal purposes. Many conscientious objectors to war and to paying for war would not agree with the author on these three points.

I believe that many Quakers (and many others) who are conscientiously opposed to paying for war and for military systems—especially those who have witnessed to those deep convictions for years—would subscribe to the following assertions:

That each of the four ways of expressing one’s conscientious objection to war taxes and military taxes (see the third item, above) is a valid way of expressing one’s peace testimony, and that some persons are led to one and some to another form of those testimonies (or to several of those approaches);

That there are various forms of societal opposition to these expressions of our peace testimony, and these resistances pose a challenge to Quakers and all who uphold these testimonies. Part of expressing one’s peace testimony is to respond with love, clarity, and determination to those who present these resistances, with the hope of persuading them of the validity of our testimony against war and military taxes and against purchases and investments supporting war;

That violence begets violence (including that form of violence which is terrorism), that war and terrorism are extreme expressions of violence, that paying for war is a form of participation in war, and that paying the full amount of one’s federal taxes means that one is paying for war and for military systems, and that each of us must grapple with that fact and resolve it in our conscience; and finally

That there is a growing body of historical evidence (e.g., see A Force More Powerful by P. Ackerman and J. Duvall, 2000) that nonviolent approaches are effective ways of preventing violence and/or responding to violent situations. No one would assert that nonviolent approaches do not carry risks (including the risk of death to those who follow those approaches). But, in the end, especially in this nuclear age, we must adopt nonviolent ways of preventing and responding to conflicts. This means that we must persuade governments to recognize conscientious objection to paying war taxes and military taxes as a human right, a right that emanates from our First Amendment right of freedom of religious expression, from Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and from Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Peter Phillips has raised a question that deserves our intense study, thought, and prayerful attention.

David R. Bassett is a member of Rochester (N.Y.) Meeting's Peace Tax Fund Working Group.

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