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