My Experience Resisting Paying Taxes for War
by Paul Leatherman
From mid 1966 through mid 1968 I was working under the auspices of Vietnam Christian Service assisting refugees in South Vietnam caught in the crossfires of the war. While I lived in Saigon I made many trips by air to areas in South Vietnam that were considered safe during the daylight hours. Almost every night I heard B52’s dropping bombs in the distance. I saw planes dropping bombs on rural area and villages. On one flight we needed to fly out over the ocean to avoid cannon fire from a ship shooting inland hitting who knows what. I saws planes spraying Agent Orange on the forests to defoliate the trees hoping to locate and destroy the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Many nights Puff the Magic Dragon (a DC3 with 3 rotating cannons mounted on one side as it banked it sprayed bullets in every square foot the width of a football field) was circling just over our house. The intent was to saturate the area circling Saigon to keep the VC from entering the city. Much of this firepower resulted in indiscriminate killing of civilians. I saw many wounded and crippled women and children.
I was a conscientious objector doing alternate military service during World War II. Later, on return from Vietnam I declared that I was conscientiously opposed to paying for war while praying for peace. I began redirecting 50% of my tax obligation (the amount of my tax obligation that reliable reports indicated was paying for present and past wars) to organizations promoting peace. Each year I wrote to the President, my Senators, and Representative as well as IRS telling them why I was redirecting my tax obligation. Each year IRS found some way to collect this amount plus interest and penalties by attaching my wages, or taking it from my bank account. One year I took the issue to court declaring that I was conscientiously opposed to paying for war and paying this tax negated my right of religious freedom guaranteed under the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The judge in ruling in favor of the IRS stated that he did not doubt the sincerity of my belief but the law was clear so he had no choice but to deny my claim.
Following that experience i decided that I had been fighting the IRS and that was a lost and useless exercise. IRS is authorized to collect the taxes imposed by Congress and has no freedom to make exceptions. Rather than redirecting a large amount of my tax obligation that IRS was eventually going to collect anyway along with a substantial amount of interest and penalty, I decided to do symbolic withholding along with being quite aggressive in informing our government decision makers that I was conscientiously opposed to participating in and paying for wars. In recent years I have been underpaying my tax obligation by $10.40. I have written strong letters to the President, my Senators, and Representative telling them I am opposed to all wars on religious grounds and that I am paying my tax obligation under protest. This small act of civil disobedience seems to catch their attention. I have a file about two inches thick of responses from the elected officials. The general response is that they will remember my concern when the World Peace Tax Fund is brought up for a vote.
Our usual experience has been that several weeks after paying our taxes both my wife and I get a letter from IRS requiring us to pay $10.40 plus interest and penalties that totaled less than $1.00. We file a joint return so IRS wanted both of us to know we had a pending tax liability. Usually we took this opportunity to send a second letter to IRS and our elected decision informing them why we were not paying this symbolic amount of tax. Usually that was the last we heard about this until one year when we were due a refund. We received the refund due, less the amounts that we did not pay over the past number of years. On years when we were due a refund we still wrote a letters to IRS, the President, our Senators and Representative informing them that we were conscientiously opposed to paying for war and had we owed taxes we would have underpaid by $10.40. This year we got a response from one of our Senators even to this letter.
There are others doing symbolic underpayment of their taxes, but we are not being heard. Our elected officials can and have been treating us as lone individual voices. If a million persons will join together in this effort and inundate our officials with letters of conscience and concern, we have a chance of being heard forcing action to respect our religious rights.
The $10.40 that you underpay is too small an amount for IRS to take formal action to collect. It also appears that they and the elected officials do not want this right of conscientious objection to paying for war to hit the press and become a national issue. Hence, to date IRS has not taken any aggressive action to collect this small amount. Let’s join together to make this a national issue.
When you receive your letter from IRS indicating you owe $10.40 plus a small amount of interest and penalty you have three options, any one of which is OK. I list them in the order of my preference.
• Do not pay this amount and use this opportunity to send a second letter to your elected officials, and if you choose to the newspaper, your church, and friends explaining your conscientious objection to paying for war.
• Pay the amount due to clear your record with IRS but send a second letter as noted in option 1.
• Pay the amount due to IRS to clear your record and assume you have already made your objections clear.
Paul Leatherman, Lancaster, PA
October 16, 2010
The Right Not to Kill
I would like to think, and I do actually claim, that the free exercise of my religion includes the right to not kill other people, in war or otherwise. Paying others to do what it would violate my own conscience and religion to do seems a poor way to live a moral life. So I have resisted war taxes in a variety of ways, with my wife, for many years. We do what we can to make a clear witness amid so much madness in our world.
John K. Stoner, Akron, PA
Confessions of a Prudent Man
What convinced me after all this time?
First, I feel genuine distress about what is being done in my name by the U.S. government: illegal invasions of other countries, kidnappings and detentions, torture, orders to kill U.S. citizens based on allegations they are terrorists, constant surveillance of U.S. citizens, constant propaganda.
When I stand before the Creator, when my grandchildren remember their grandfather, am I prepared for the record to show I knew of these crimes but did nothing?
Second, I began to associate with people who talked about tax resistance in language that finally made sense to me. They didn’t claim payment of taxes was equivalent to buying weapons. They didn’t make tax resistance seem heroic. They simply said it was appropriate and even urgent for tax payers to communicate concerns of conscience to the tax collector. I knew they were right.
Third, these people with whom I talked had their feet on the ground. They understood our members of Congress have been co-opted by a business interests that survive on fat contracts from the Pentagon and Homeland Security. They understood this will never change until we find another way for lots of people to band together and make our voices heard. They understood the level of anger simmering in this country, and the importance of taking practical, peaceful steps to restore democratic norms.
So from now on, each April when I comply with the law’s requirement that I communicate with the IRS, I also will convey my objection to potentially criminal activity the government is engaged in with our money. I’m pretty sure the IRS keeps track of such objections; they’ve been in correspondence with us ever since they noticed our payment was $10.40 short.
I’m aware the willful failure to pay my federal income taxes is punishable, in the extreme scenario, by a fine of up to $25,000 and/or imprisonment of up to one year. A more likely penalty would be up to 25% of the tax, or $2.60.
I expect to pay what we failed to pay last April. Sooner or later, one way or another, Sharon and I will see $10.40 plus interest and penalties move from our control to theirs. What we’ve done is not so much break the law as register a complaint. While others aren’t so sure about that, Sharon and I are prepared to live with that risk.
As you may have noticed, we’re not the heroic kind. But something more important is at stake than 100 percent certainty about our legal standing. Honor, integrity, conscience, each of those terms starts to get close. It’s the basic human obligation to object when something wrong is being done right before our eyes, using the money we provided.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania, September 2010
Testimonial on $10.40 withholding:
For some years now Mary and I have not paid any 1040 income tax, since we are retired and try to give as much as we can to the many needs in our world today. But I do believe we should witness to Christ’s teachings in the political sphere. Our country spends too much on defense and the military.
Even though we won’t have to pay tax, we will send a letter to our President, Representative, and Senators expressing our concerns that reallocation of US Budget resources is essential to our national budget and now well-timed as the U.S. is phasing out of two unfortunate wars. Building the country’s infra-structure, supporting education, health-care for all, use of new energy technologies that free us from oil consumption, and reducing money spent on political campaigns are priorities that must mark our future. These priorities express the moral teachings of Jesus and the Christian Scripture.
Dr. Willard Swartley and Mary Swartley, Elkhart, Indiana
Refuse Voluntary Payment of Income Taxes for War
Another follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I quit my job and changed my life in 2006 so that I could refuse voluntary payment of income taxes for war. At this point, my debate with the IRS regarding the balance due on my 2008 tax bill is moving into the district court, where I will continue claim my human right of conscience not to support the killing of human beings. Many other Quakers in California are paying under protest, sending clear letters to that effect to their federal legislators.
Elizabeth Boardman, Davis, California.
demands as a citizen who is simultaneously called to obey governmental laws and
to love all persons, especially enemies. I have tried several methods to
reconcile this dilemma (reduced income & tax liability, redirected taxes, paid
under protest, sought religious counsel, and from 2006-2008 spent 60-70 hrs/wk
building support for a legal alternative (the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund
In 1912, 'Abdu'l-Baha (son of the prophet-founder of the Baha'i
Faith) said: “Implements of war and death are multiplied and increased to an
inconceivable degree, and the burden of military maintenance is taxing the
various countries beyond the point of endurance. Armies and navies devour the
substance and possessions of the people; the toiling poor, the innocent and
helpless are forced by taxation to provide munitions and armament for
governments bent upon conquest of territory and defense against powerful rival
nations. There is no greater or more woeful ordeal in the world of humanity
today than impending war.”
War and its ravages blight the world. Conquest of territory has partially been
replaced by corporate control of resources, but military maintenance still
taxes people beyond the point of endurance. A large portion of the substance
of the people still is devoured by idolatrous militarism. And I am still being forced by
taxation to provide munitions and armament to my government which inadequately
uses the means of development and diplomacy to prevent or resolve conflicts.
In the past, a number of adult men were compelled by the U.S. government to
directly participate in war by "the bearing of arms", in violation of their consciences.
After decades of struggle, military service alternatives are now recognized by
the international community as a freedom of conscience right.
At present, men, women, and children are being compelled by their governments
to directly participate in the financing of war with their personal earnings, in
violation of their spiritual consciences. The inequity of U.S. federal spending
between military and social/environmental needs partially drive my beliefs in
the inherent waste and sinfulness of war. When I knowingly contribute financially,
am I not responsible for the predictable use of this money, and therefore complicit in
formation of U.S. colonies and unification as States. The United Nations was
created to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, to reaffirm
faith in fundamental human rights, to reaffirm faith in the dignity and worth of
each person, and to promote social progress. I truly believe all humanity is one
and my family, and seek to love all as such. How can I simultaneously love my
neighbor and enemies yet pay for their harm?
I do not believe that all violence is categorically wrong or that my individual
conscience should be exalted over society's need for collective security. I support
efforts at the United Nations level whereby principles replace expediency
and some national sovereignty is curtailed in order to create a system in which
force is used collectively and as a servant of justice.
I assert it is a natural right of conscience to be free from coerced participation
in killing, whether that coercion be physical or financial. In doing so, do we
not manifest part of the life-affirming collective conscience of humanity
which the United States and United Nations were formed to nurture and protect?
Alan Gamble, Jackson MI,