A Report on the Military Tax Resistance Movement in the US

by Carolyn Stevens, National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, USA

This report addresses developments in the US war tax resistance (WTR) movement since the first international conference in Tübingen.

In the United States there are over one hundred groups concerned about military taxation issues. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) serves as a clearinghouse for information, support, networking, and strategy discussion. Besides NWTRCC, there are two other national organizations whose primary focus is objection to military taxation.

The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) lobbies and educates for passage of the US Peace Tax Fund Bill in Congress. Recently they have worked especially to illuminate the critical importance of conscience in the matter of objection to war taxes. In conjunction with other organizations they are spearheading organization of a major conference in 1990 on role and status of conscience today in the United States. The NCPTF lobbied this past year for hearings on the Peace Tax Fund, and although none were scheduled specifically on the bill, the NCPTF presented written testimony to a subcommittee in the House of Representatives on the subject of the excess fines and penalties suffered by WTRs.

The other national organization that focuses primarily on war tax issues is the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign. CMTC manages the largest national escrow account of nearly $300,000.00 in resisted tax monies. Interest from the account is used to fund CMTC’s organization and work on military tax and peace tax fund concerns. They publish Conscience, a magazine devoted to in-depth coverage of WTR, including philosophical and political analysis.

Several multi-issue, national peace organizations continue to be concerned about war taxes and to give the issue attention, to a greater or lesser extent, as a project. Some groups focus on serving their own constituents; others do broader outreach. The Fellowship of Reconciliation, War Resisters League, Pax Christi, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Mobilization for Survival, American Peace Test, Pledge of Resistance, Jobs With Peace, and Peacemakers are among the national groups addressing war tax concerns.

This summer, two important new books were published by the Friends Committee on War Tax Concerns: the Handbook on Military Taxes and Conscience, and Fear God and Honor the Emperor, a resource for employers of conscientious war tax objectors.

A number of US religious denominations have published statements supportive of the US. Peace Tax Fund bill and the conscientious right of individuals to refuse payment of military taxes. Since the Tübingen conference statements have been passed by the Disciples of Christ (Christian Church) and the Presbyterian Church USA. The Mennonite Church is going to consider adoption of an employer's policy for WTRs on staff, and such policies have already been adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church, the Friends World Committee Section of the Americas, Friends Journal, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, and the Sojourners Community. Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has just been sued by the US government for refusing to honor two levies on the salary of war tax objectors.

Decisions in US courts continue to go against individual resisters in nearly every case, and there is general agreement that the courts are not going to be a successful forum for progress on the military tax issue unless legislation establishing conscientious objector status for taxpayers is passed. This is because the courts have determined and uniformly rule that US citizens have no right to CO status under the US Constitution or existing statutes.

As the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has increased automation and computerization, there has been a perception among WTRs that collection and enforcement efforts have escalated. A few houses owned by WTRs have been auctioned this year, one for the third time. One WTR from New York spent eight days in jail for contempt of court in July. Two resisters from Jubilee Partners Community in Georgia are facing serious prison terms for contempt, and they could be jailed indefinitely. These are the first imprisonments for WTR in the US since the beginning of the decade. One family had the final adoption of their new baby delayed for a year because they are WTRs, and around the country resisters continue to be involved in struggles, in and out of court, related to governmental efforts to collect resisted taxes.

This past year, the first attempt was made to survey WTRs in the US. While the return rate to the survey has not been large, preliminary results are providing interesting data. Of particular interest is the finding that among respondents nearly two-thirds indicate that their resisted taxes remain uncollected by the IRS past the six-year statute of limitations, which means that many war tax resisters succeed with their goal of indefinitely refusing to pay military taxes.

The overall numbers of WTRs in the US is difficult to judge. My personal opinion from working in the NWTRCC office is that the movement is not growing at the current time and may be declining. There are perhaps 10,000 to 20,000 income tax resisters and upwards of 100,000 telephone tax resisters. Clearly numbers and the level of interest are cyclical, and form in an inverse pattern to the level of interventionist and militaristic activity engaged in by the US government.

In contrast, cooperation among all the groups working on military tax concerns is at an all-time high. We have no national consensus on the basis or strategy of WTR, but we have built up respect and support for each other.

WTR and Peace Tax Fund organizing on the local and regional level varies greatly around the country. There are between 100 and 150 local and regional groups and alternative funds in the US, and NWTRCC has contact with nearly all of them. The heart and soul of the movement in the US rests in these local groups, and in the consistent and powerful witness of individuals. National efforts will only succeed in response to pressure and concern expressed by constituent and local activists.