Sunday, March 08, 2009

war taxes

So, it's that time of year again...where we all get to think about our stance on paying taxes that support war. Today someone in meeting brought this up, and it's something I think about a lot.

As Friends, we talk a lot about peace, we can be conscientious objectors to physical participation in war, but we cannot (legally) be conscientious objectors to paying for our country's wars--except by not earning enough money to pay any taxes, or by doing enough in charitable giving that our deductions are high enough that we don't pay taxes. (This has the obvious problem that we use the services that taxes pay for such as roads and schools without paying anything for them.) This is a difficult question! How can we support the good things that government does, allows us to do together, and provides for the poor, while not supporting the stuff that we don't agree with? In a democracy, when everything is decided by the majority, can we withhold our money regarding our own biases, or should we just give what we must and do what the majority wants? (The problem is, of course, that this isn't exactly a democracy--we can vote for whomever we want, but the only people likely to gain office are people most of us wouldn't actually want to represent us. So that's a problem.)

My solution: Quakers, Mennonites, Brethren, and whomever else wants to participate refuses to pay war taxes for a few years, and we suffer the consequences. I think we should campaign for a war-tax-free 2010 in all Quaker meetings and Mennonite/Brethren/etc. communities. What are they going to do--throw us all in jail? Maybe. But they can't do that forever. No one wants to pay their taxes for a bunch of Quakers and other pacifists to sit in jail for not paying taxes. It doesn't make sense.

So are we willing to actually suffer a little bit to be consistent about our peace stance? Are we willing to make a bit of a sacrifice to ensure that our money isn't paying to kill people?

Anyone with me on a war-tax-free 2010? Let's start publicizing now...


brooke said...

i've contemplated it - not paying war taxes. do you know peg morton, from eugene? she, along with others - including my dear friend sue - are the organization "taxes for peace not war"..

you said you are moving back to oregon. once you are back - if you want to be in touch with them, please let me know.

at some point i may decide to be a war tax resister. i guess i'm still a little chicken right now. *sigh*


Anonymous said...


You may remember your Grandpa Ralph and Nonna's efforts to not pay war taxes about 25 years ago or so. They made a good go of it. Maybe they would have been more successful had there been a large group participating with them. If I remember correctly, they notified IRS they were giving the war tax money to other government agencies that provided aid to people in need, but they didn't pay it directly to IRS in the form of taxes. The end result was that eventually IRS still got the war taxes (plus a bunch of penalties and interest) so they ended up paying more than double the amount of the war taxes. The IRS isn't very forgiving even when someone's conscience is objecting to how the government spends the money (actually, IRS isn't forgiving at all!).

There is much to be considered when taking the conscientious objector's stance against paying war taxes. I think it works a lot better if you don't make much money, and then you also have to be okay with losing any property you own. And yes, worst case scenario, spending time in jail. Those are things I would find hard to do...and yet, if we take the approach that nothing in this world really exists, that we are only here for a limited time in our physical bodies, and that we shouldn't be anxious about the possibility of lacking physical comforts, then giving up the things like money and possessions might not be so difficult.

Seemingly tough to get to that place mentally, emotionally and spiritually. But a concept that is definitely worth giving some serious thought.

Maybe to steer things just a tiny bit differently, I believe the main purpose in our lives is to love. We have to ask ourselves if we can love and still pay war taxes. It's a tough question. More importantly, how can we love in each and every situation in every moment of every day?

Time to do more contemplating on what's important in my life :-)

Love you (and looking forward to having you back in Oregon!),



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Cherice: I started a reply but it got longer and longer and longer and realized I was writing a blog post. Doh!

I totally agree it would be great to do something big and radical but I'm afraid I have confidence that any number of Friends or other peace church members are going to do anything like you propose. Push comes to shove, we're a pretty docile group these days. But if we push our focus out further there might be some interesting opportunities.

Thanks for you good post and the inspiration it provided!
Your Friend, Martin

Swallowtail said...

Our approach is a bit different. We don't earn enough actual income to pay income taxes and we use the system to get a tax return, which we can then use toward the betterment of society instead of violence. This can be accomplished in various ways: through local economies that don't use cash, by trading services, by strictly limiting your spending ("Your Money or Your Life" is a good book and program to help people discover how).

However, most people aren't willing to "live marginally" as my brother has called it, and we don't intend to continue living in "poverty" indefinitely. But it has been a conscious choice for several years. We can work toward a more rational federal administration in the meantime and hope for a day when we won't have to try to avoid paying taxes.


Heather said...

We were discussing just this subject on the Quaker group on Ravelry (a social networking site for knitters and crocheters), so I recommended this post to everyone there.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts so clearly.

eboardman said...

There are a number of Quaker (and other) war tax resisters here in California as well as in other states. If you really get going on a 2010 campaign to recruit more, I'd like to hear about it by e-mail (I can't handle blogs usually) at

Also be sure that people know of the resources available from War Resisters League ( and Nat'l war tax resistence coordinating council (


Anonymous said...

Cherice, I wrote a comment last evening, but apparently I didn't get it to go through. Essentially what I said was to second your Mom's comments. I think there are better ways to express ourselves against war. If I were drafted I would refuse and go to jail, if it came to that. But our experience was to withhold 25 percent of our taxes (what we estimated to go to the military at the time) and give it to another gov't organization. But we knew full well that 25 percent of the 75 percent we paid in taxes would go to the military. Eventually, as your Mom said, they accessed our bank account and withdrew what we "owed" plus penalties, and of course 25 percent of that went to the military.

I sent copies of "Waging Peace: A Study in Biblical Pacifism" to the tax officials who had contacted us; I don't know whether the read them. I don't approve of the alternative of keeping income below tax level, since it isn't fair of me to use the roads and schools without paying.

Nonna and I now choose to try to live and teach Jesus' peace, but we don't think tax refusal is reasonable. Love you!

Gr. Ralph

Swallowtail said...

I've never addressed the issue of avoiding one's "duty to society" by living in voluntary poverty. I guess that's because I've never had that argument presented to me before. And it has always seemed obvious to me that those without wealth shouldn't pay taxes, especially when there is such an incomprehensible amount of wealth in this nation. But it is a valid question, though perhaps one I should address elsewhere. For now I'll just say that there are many arguments in favor of voluntary poverty. In fact, many Christians have practiced voluntary poverty since the beginning of Christianity and it was usually seen as virtuous. And in my opinion, climbing the ladder of wealth only contributes to the rampant consumerism, as well as militarism, of our society. I believe the question is mainly one of what constitutes an adequate fulfillment of one's duty to society... a topic for a future blog post.


Frederick said...

Cherice -- I saw you speak in Boston a couple of years ago, so when Martin Kelley posted a link about you and war taxes I had to read it! I've been the live-below-the-taxable-level kind of resister for many years. Ralph raises a good point about paying for the roads, but I just hope I contribute to society enough by my work as a teacher. (And I pay state taxes whenever I owe them.) I organized a Young Adult Friends workshop at New England Yearly Meeting last summer about war taxes, and among other things it gave me some opportunity to talk about Christian pacifism. There seems to be growing interest...

John Fitzgerald said...

Hi Cherice,

There's been quite a bit of peace tax action amongst British Friends over the years. Indeed at one time the Yearly Meeting withheld taxes on behalf of its employees. That kind of action gave rise to

I think they've been pushing on this issue for some time now, but were just refused an appeal at the European Court.

My take is that governments are (understandably) highly resistant to taxpayers attempting to direct their taxes- from a bureacrat's point of view, it might begin with issues of conscience and end up with no-one wanting to pay for the 'unattractive but essential' stuff.

How to open their minds to our witness?

Jeff M. said...

What an interesting idea! Have to admit I had never thought or heard of this!

My initial response would be to ask to what effect would this position change our countries military policy?

It would seem that the "machine" we know as govt. would continue to roll along with or without us.

At our meeting we recently heard a sermon on the Quaker Peace testimony by pastor Redford. I was very anxious, as were others, as to the response we might find from the large number within our body who don't hold to a "traditional Friends" position on pacifism.

Many great points and thought provoking ideas were brought up in the sermon itself, but the one word that God seemed to impress on all, no matter where they stood on the issue, was a quote that Fox made to William Penn. Upon their first meeting Penn asked Fox if he should continue to wear his sword. Fox's reply was that he "should wear it as long as he could". Fox deliberately left it to God to tell Penn when and if to lay down his sword.

To me this is such a wonderful picture. It speaks of following Jesus and his distinct call to each of us. Penn in fact did lay down his sword later, but he did it not because it was a Quaker requirement, but because of Christ' individual leading on his heart and mind.