Simplicity in Avoiding War Taxes

In 1982 the contradiction of "praying for peace and paying for war" overwhelmed us. We needed to try to live under the taxable level (supplemented by tax-free investments) so that we no longer would be supporting monetarily what we deplored spiritually. In an open letter to fellow Friends at Haverford (Pa.) Meeting, which was printed in their September 1982 newsletter The Meeting, we wrote:

Along with raising our family and "just living," we have been trying in our own ways to contribute to a more just and peaceful society. While doing this, we have both had jobs and paid federal taxes. For the last three years we have not paid that portion of our federal income tax (approximately one third) that goes to the Pentagon. However, IRS has eventually taken the funds, with penalties and interest, by placing a lien on Harry’s salary at West Chester State College. Thus, we are purchasers and part owners (along with you) of numerous H-bombs and other weapons of death. We ask ourselves if the potential damage we are doing is not more than outweighing any benefits to society we might be making.

We have been strong supporters of the proposed World Peace Tax Fund Act (now called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act), which would have allowed conscientious objectors to opt to channel their federal taxes into peaceful activities. In 1982, with our tax return to the Internal Revenue Service, we wrote:

Had the World Peace Tax Fund Act been passed by now, we could have continued in our present occupations and continued to pay our income taxes. We gladly pay for all government services and life-enhancing programs. . . . However, as matters now stand, we cannot any longer support monetarily what we deplore spiritually.

After our younger son had graduated from high school, we were able, at ages 49 and 47, to move to northern Maine and live a simpler life. Louis Green, a retired Astronomy professor at Haverford College, taught us what we needed to know about tax-free municipal bonds and helped us invest the cushion we received from selling our home in Haverford and buying a very low-cost one in Houlton, Maine. Our older son was about to enter his senior year at University of Maine and we would be able to pay the much-reduced in-state tuition. How well we understood the mesh of life’s circumstances that keeps one tied down. This was our chance to make the change we felt a strong leading to carry out. Because of our penchant for public witness, we did not just slip away. Letters to the editor and news articles in local papers in the Haverford area and Houlton detailed the reasons for quitting our jobs and moving north.

We had a lot of remodeling to do on our house, and in 1991 we installed an on-grid photovoltaic electrical system and have solar pre-heating of hot water. We also live within walking distance of stores, which reduces our need to travel and helps us live in an environmentally friendly manner. Our home is heated by wood from dead and diseased trees that we harvest ourselves from our woodlot.

Although we thought in 1982 that we were leaving everything behind, a wonderful new life of volunteering, composing, conducting, and living closer to nature opened up. We vote, are active politically, and have been participating weekly in a silent peace vigil in our community, now in its seventh year. Despite all the details of our peace witness through federal tax avoidance being aired on the front page of our Houlton paper soon after our arrival, in 1999 we were honored with the "Good Samaritans of Houlton" award for our volunteer work and in 2006 we each received a Paul Harris Award from the local Rotary Club for our peace efforts. Of course, that says a lot about the wonderful people in this small community in which we now live. Financially we have weathered the economic crisis since 2008 with no loss of capital or interest. We continue to feel blessed and have never regretted our decision to move to Maine.

For those who share our concern about not paying for war or preparations for war, tax-free municipal bonds are the legal tickets. Those who purchase them are financing voter-approved and life-enhancing projects in our country such as better sewers, schools, and hospitals. The modest interest on these state and/or municipal bonds is not taxable by the federal government. We file a 1040 every year, but most years we owe nothing or very little. If we think we may "go over," we give more money away that year to tax-exempt organizations. Yes, we have our own foreign and domestic giving program in lieu of owing federal taxes. Daycare centers, local food pantries, and humanitarian aid for Vietnam are favorite charities along with peace and justice organizations. We happily pay state and local taxes.

Thanks to understanding parents, most of our inheritance has been in the form of tax-free municipal bonds. When a bond comes due, we always reinvest the capital by purchasing another tax-free municipal bond at face value (i.e. at par) so that there is no capital gain when the bond comes due or is called. Although we do not know how long we will live or what dire situations might eat up our principal, we do hope to be able to continue to live very simply on the interest from our tax-free municipal bonds and pass on some of the capital to our children and grandchildren who live about two hours away by car in the Bangor area. We really love the kind of life we’re living; we didn’t make this commitment in order to be miserable. And we sleep better at night knowing that we are not paying for war as we pray for peace.


Harrison and Marilyn Roper were members of Haverford (Pa.) Meeting for 18 years, up to the 1980s, and since then have been members of Houlton-Woodstock Worship Group, New Brunswick Monthly Meeting, Canadian Yearly Meeting.