1) Tax Day Actions 1998
2) WTR Court Appeals
3) Counseling Notes
4) Legislative Updates (Peace Tax Fund)
5) WTR Stories - IRS Interactions
6) NWTRCC Business (NWTRCC Meets in the Heartland)
8) Local Group Reports (S. Bend, IN; Deerfield, MA)
9) Perspective (Tax Day: A Time to Search our Corporate Souls, by Titus Peachey)
Tax Day Actions, 1998
During the 1998 tax season, in response to the Call to Noncooperation with the War on Iraq, war tax resisters from around the country contributed refused tax money to projects providing material aid to the people of Iraq. The Voices in the Wilderness group based in Chicago reported $5,200 in contributions from war tax resisters and Jubilee Partners in Georgia reported $2,000.
In addition, war tax resisters maintained a faithful and creative presence in fifty-nine different cities in the U.S., including the following: Asheville, NC
The Taxes for Life! group in Asheville conducted a penny poll at the library entrance for about six hours, with a literature table and a large pie chart. Over 156 Asheville participants were each given ten pennies, asked to step into the role of budget director for a moment, and to cast their votes among five broad categories of government spending.
Asheville citizens allocated funds much differently than the U.S. budget. Their results: Current Military, 7%; Past Military, 8%; Physical Resources, 21%; General Government, 12%; Human Resources, 49%. Des Moines, IA
Iowa Peace Network, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Peace Ministry, Des Moines Valley Friends Meeting, and American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees sponsored a second annual Tax Day Bake Sale for the Des Moines Public Schools on April 15. The proceeds from the sale, a little over $240, will be presented at the Des Moines School Board's regular meeting.
The idea of a bake sale for the schools started last year when the school board was considering cutting several teaching positions to allow money in the budget to make much needed repairs on several buildings. The WILPF motto, "It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber" was used as a theme. The sale was repeated this year since the budget situation at the school continues to pose problems.
The bake sale also provided the opportunity to visit with customers about the reason for the sale and inform them about the percentage of their tax dollar going to the military versus other domestic programs such as education. Most were surprised and were supportive of the sale. Greenfield, MA
On April 15 the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters (PVWTR) called on Bread & Puppet Theater, an internationally acclaimed performance art group, to help them spread the word about war taxes and the Pentagon. About one hundred people showed up to watch or participate in the two skits, The Pentagon and The Foot. The performances were done in comic Greek chorus style and, although the subject was serious, there was a lot of laughing. (Anyone who would like a copy of the videotape of the performances may call PVWTR at (413)773-5188.)
PVWTR arranged for the company to stay overnight at a local conference center, preceded by a potluck dinner and a discussion of war tax resistance, art, and social change. Hackensack, NJ
Taxpayers in line at the post office on April 15th heard loud cries from a chorus of "poor and working people" tied up and holding cans of food. "We are so tired and so poor," they moaned. To their right, a loud character identified as "Mr. IRS" boomed out, "I steal from the poor and I give to war!" as he snatched another can of food from the hungry and, grinning, handed the stolen can to "Mr. War Machine" who held the can aloft and clamored "Give me more, give me more, to build my nuclear war!" then dropped it in a pile of stolen cans to convert to weapons.
As the cycle started again, two war tax resisters slid behind War Machine and, smiling, gathered up the cans of food and brought them back to the people. Soon some other working people got the same crazy ideas, and two refused to let go of their cans of food, as Mr. IRS wrestled to get them from their hands. "Give me more!" Mr. War Machine yelled in panic. "No," said the people, "we won't cooperate."
A few days later, the same dramatic crew hosted a panel of five veterans and draft resisters from World War II to the 1991 Gulf War who told powerful stories about prison, segregation, and war. At the conclusion of the panel, the Tolstoy Fund awarded resisted taxes to Peace Brigades International. Lancaster, PA
The Taxes for Life group organized their annual Stations of the Cross walk on Good Friday. They made ten stops in downtown Lancaster, places that represented suffering or responses to suffering, such as a war memorial, a thrift store which benefits an abused women's shelter, a company which manufactures components for cluster weapons, the WIC office, Lancaster County Prison, etc.
At each stop a participant read a meditation, with strong references to war, militarism, and war taxes. At the concluding worship service, a staff member of the Mennonite Central Committee, who had just returned from Iraq, received an offering of $1,700 from Taxes for Life for Iraqi relief, a significant portion of which was withheld tax dollars. Milwaukee, WI
The Milwaukee War Tax Resistance group held their annual tax day demonstration at the IRS office in the federal building. The focus of their protest was the $9,000 per second that is spent by the U.S. to make weapons and fight wars. After passing out flyers in front of the building, three members of the group entered the IRS office and were arrested by the police for trespassing. They were released the same day and will go to trial at a future date. Portland, OR
On April 15 the Oregon Community for War Tax Resistance performed street theater in front of the Federal Building, and the Pentagon Porkbusters conducted a penny poll in front of the main post office. After a mock President Clinton bragged to onlookers about the many areas in which the U.S. was #1 - military spending, arms sales, violent gun deaths, etc. - he drove home the point with an 8-foot Patriot missile tossed into a group of students, parents, nurses and other ordinary people.
Mass dying ensued, followed by an appearance by the grim reaper himself. Ostensibly there to collect bodies, he assented to an interview with M.C. Daniel Woodham. Death was the only one at the rally willing to even attempt an explanation of the maniacal logic of a still-bloated U.S. military budget.
With chalked bodies inside a roped-off yellow danger area, the event attracted enough complacent Portland lunch-goers to make a decent audience for the more formal redirection of resisted military tax moneys which followed. Instead of paying federal taxes, the members of OCWTR contributed a total of $4,064 to five local community groups.
As usual, results from the penny poll showed ordinary citizens allocating a much lower percentage of their tax dollars (7.4 %) to the military than the actual percentage (49% as calculated by the War Resisters League). Other areas, such as Human Resources (33.4%) and Physical Resources (22.6%) were deemed much more important by people voting with their pennies Philadelphia, PA
A local coalition of groups organized a penny poll, leafleting, and a street parade at the 30th Street post office with a dozen or more costumed and singing participants, directed by Steve Gulick of Philadelphia War Tax Resisters. The event was planned by the Peace, Justice and Environment Network (PJE-Net) of the Delaware Valley.
The results of the penny poll, with a total of 713 respondents, were as follows: Education - 33%; Health & Human Services - 24%; Housing - 21%; Environment - 18%; Military - 4%. Tacoma, WA
The first ever tax day demonstration in recent Tacoma history included a penny poll at the county building. A total of 116 passers-by voted more money for education, health, the environment, and housing than for the military. In a creative twist, the organizers of the poll announced to participants that they would distribute grants of refused tax moneys the following week according to the penny poll results, with the military portion going to a group that works with veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
WTR Court Appeals
Quaker Priscilla Adams has announced that she will appeal the March 3, 1998 decision of the U.S. Tax Court in Philadelphia by Judge Maurice Foley which rejected her arguments that she had the right to refuse to pay taxes used for military purposes on the basis of her religious conscience. Her lawyers, Peter Goldberger and Lior Feldman, have filed a notice of appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.
Priscilla's case was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) which states that the federal government, in situations where laws impinge on an individual's free exercise of religion, must have a compelling interest to enforce its laws and must find the least restrictive means to do so.
After reviewing the March 3 decision, attorneys Peter Goldberger and Lior Feldman noted that Judge Foley articulated a definition of "compelling governmental interest" which has the effect of exempting the IRS entirely from RFRA. This violates the plain meaning of RFRA, which requires that all agencies of the government, including the IRS, prove that they have tried to accommodate individual conscience, but are unable to without defeating the compelling interest.
The appeal will also contend that the Tax Court erred in refusing to cancel penalties that the IRS had added to Priscilla's unpaid taxes. The internal Revenue Code allows the IRS to waive penalties when an individual has "reasonable cause" for noncompliance. The IRS accepts excuses based on "ordinary business care and prudence," as well as sudden emergencies, but refuses to recognize obedience to religious conscience as a "reasonable cause." This policy violates well-established principles under the First Amendment, as well as under RFRA.
One correction needs to be made to the article in our last issue regarding Rosa Packard's tax case. It was filed in Federal District Court in Connecticut (a court of appeal) not Tax Court as stated in the article. The government has responded to the complaint in Rosa's case using arguments taken rather directly from Judge Foley's decision in Priscilla Adams' case.
Rosa's case is different from Priscilla's, in that she filed and deposited her refused taxes in an escrow account, which establishes a desire to pay and to negotiate an accommodation, as opposed to not filing and redirecting the taxes, which demonstrates alternative use of the money. Because of this, and because her case is in a different court, she hopes the judge will engage the issue of penalizing conscientious objection and free exercise of religion, which Judge Foley did not.
ADDITIONS AND CORRECTIONS
With thanks to lawyers Peter Goldberger and Lior Feldman, long-time consultants to the war tax resistance movement, we have some additions and corrections to the Counseling Notes that were printed in the April More Than a Paycheck.
Regarding the increase in property exempt from levy, it should also be noted that the amount of wages and salary exempt from levy increases at the same time. Amounts are listed in Publication 1494 (available from the IRS or NWTRCC). WTRs with a wage levy currently in effect should notify their employers immediately, if they did not do so in January, to explain that the exempt amount changes upward each new year; the IRS won't tell them this, and most employers won't know or won't change the levy without prodding.
To clarify the legalities of dealing with a summons: ignoring a summons is a crime, while appearing and refusing to give information, for whatever reason, is not. A person who responds to a summons is entitled to a witness fee and transportation reimbursement; the IRS never offers to pay unless asked, and usually denies that such financial help exists unless the summonsed party demands to see a supervisor or cites the law (Internal Revenue Code §7610(a); Reg. §301.7610-1). Peter and Lior believe that WTRs should always demand reimbursement. In fact, if WTRs call in response to a summons and mention that they will be expecting a witness fee and travel reimbursement when they show up, it will often result in the cancellation of the summons.
Based on the Fifth Amendment, war tax resisters have the right to refuse to answer any of the IRS's questions. A summons gives no authority to the IRS to require any forms to be filled out or documents prepared by the "taxpayer." The April MTAP article was inaccurate in referring to a "court-ordered summons." If a person refuses a summons and the IRS can persuade the local US Attorney to take action, what the court issues is an "order to show cause" why a refuser should not be held in contempt by a federal judge for refusing to give information. This may require a written response in court by the war tax resister, and sometimes an appearance, which may result in a dismissal of the summons based on the Fifth Amendment or in an order to comply with the IRS summons. If an order to comply is refused at this point, it can result in jailing for contempt of court.
CREDIT CARDS AND THE IRS
We've had a number of responses to our piece in the April MTAP about the possibility of the IRS being able to collect back taxes via the credit line on a credit card. Peter Goldberger and Lior Feldman say, "We think the unnamed attorney quoted in the April MTAP Counseling Notes was wrong; we don't see how collection from the credit line would be legal under any existing IRS authority. We don't think unattributed legal opinions should be given in MTAP; it tends to mislead people into thinking that the law is black and white, not a matter of educated opinion (which it is). We have no idea whether to give any weight to that opinion if it doesn't give a name or reveal the reasoning.
On the other hand, Geov Parrish of Seattle says, "It's not only possible--it's happened. Along about 1993 or so (it was in MTAP at the time) the IRS and my phone company billed a credit card for telephone taxes--AND I HAD NEVER GIVEN MY CARD INFORMATION TO EITHER AGENCY. I protested to the bank, they reversed the charge, and I've never heard anything further, nor have I heard of it happening to others."
Titus Peachey of Mennonite Central Committee (see Perspective piece on page 8) reports that at least two Mennonite Institutions have adopted policies in regards to WTR in recent months.
Mennonite Mutual Aid adopted a policy in December, 1997 that reads: "That to the extent legally possible, MMA support its members who are protesting the payment of war taxes by initially requesting that IRS collection attempts or levies on MMA-controlled assets be lifted."
The Pennsylvania Mennonite Federal Credit Union, at a February, 1998 board meeting, approved a policy of requesting the IRS to lift levies related to war taxes. The PMFCU request to the IRS would refer to the church's historic peace position and the credit union's support for the individual member.
Peace Tax Campaign - Toll-Free Hotline and Intern Position
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) has established a toll-free legislative hotline, where callers can find a brief message about the Peace Tax Fund and how the Bill is doing in Congress. The number is (800)550-6039. The hotline should be ready with a message in May, and the message will be updated every couple weeks.
Also, the NCPTF is looking for an Outreach-Development Assistant for a one- to two-year internship in their Washington, DC office. Duties will include the Congressional District Contact Program, legislative action alerts, internet organizing, and publications. Applicants are encouraged to apply through a service placement agency, such as the Mennonite Central Committee, in which case a small stipend and health benefits will be provided.
For more information: National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, 2121 Decatur Pl, NW, Washington, DC, 20008, (202)483-3751, email: email@example.com.
NWTRCC Business NWTRCC Meets in the Heartland
The sun was shining and the redbud in bloom in Newton, Kansas for the May meeting of the Coordinating Committee and the annual Midwest War Tax Resistance Conference. We experienced that infamous midwestern hospitality - a warm welcome, good food, friendly hosts, and lots of laughter. Many thanks to the Newton Area Peace Center and the Heartland Peace Tax Group for all their work on our behalf!
About 20 Coordinating Committee members from around the country and 30 to 40 local folks met on Friday evening and Saturday to share together our personal stories of resistance, our organizing efforts, and strategies for future work. An inspirational panel on Saturday morning responded to the question, "What do I do if my conscience says I shouldn't support war?" A later panel tried to answer the question "Are war tax resisters normal?" as they talked of families and lifestyles.
Workshops focused on an introduction to war tax resistance; the biblical and theological bases for WTR; community, support, and outreach to young people; organizational WTR; why we need a Peace Tax Fund; legal options for reducing taxable income; alternative employment and lifestyles; and a showing of the film, An Act of Conscience.
The Coordinating Committee selected new Administrative Committee members (more on that in our next newsletter); agreed to split money to send two representatives to the International Conference in New Delhi, India at the end of this year; adopted a policy in regards to withholding and levies on NWTRCC personnel and a policy on responding to major political events, such as a war; agreed to participate actively in the Day without a Pentagon activities organized by the War Resisters League; reviewed a second draft of Practical #6 on Organizational WTR; and selected the San Francisco area for our fall meeting, November 6 - 8, 1998, and Asheville, NC for our next spring meeting, May 7 - 9, 1999.
NWTRCC presented Jerry Chernow and the workers of Lakeside Press in Madison, WI with a framed commendation for their years of donated printing labor on our newsletter and literature. We gave a heartfelt thanks to David Waters and Tana DeVietti as they finished their Administrative Committee terms.
Robin Harper of Wallingford, PA recently received an 'invitation' to a meeting with the IRS, which included the following statement: "Purpose of conference - to collect the full amount of the delinquent tax for years 1987-1996. Bring a check for $54,969.28. Note: If you fail to appear, I shall take enforcement action to collect the tax in full; file a federal tax lien, and issue a summons, if one is necessary."
Robin decided to appear, accompanied by a Quaker couple, dear Friends and fellow war tax resisters. As the Revenue Officer had not read the materials Robin left for him in advance, Robin gave him some background of his war tax refusal from 1959 to the present.
At this point Robin stood and displayed a chart, measuring 2 1/2 by 4 1/2 feet, detailing his alternative federal income tax payments to nearly one hundred organizations. The revenue officer invited Robin to complete an extensive IRS form to aid in their collection process. Robin told him that twice, in 1975 and again in 1982, he had refused on principle to provide such information; twice the IRS had issued a subpoena and taken him to federal district court; and twice he had prevailed in these civil cases. After seeing documentation of the court cases, the officer acknowledged that probably it would not make sense for the IRS to try again to force Robin to provide information through a subpoena. Robin asked his next step and he said, "I shall consult with my superior."
When Robin described the history and substance of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, the revenue officer commented, "Congress should have passed it 25 years ago." Robin rejoined, "Since you are so supportive, I nominate you to represent IRS the next time your agency testifies on the Peace Tax Fund before Congress!" The officer grinned broadly.
Robin's conclusions: "The officer was friendly and proved to be a careful listener. He let me do most of the talking, offering only a few questions and comments. At no point did he question my sincerity nor dispute my stand of conscience. Long ago I lost my fear of the IRS: all the want is money, which they have not yet succeeded in collecting from me, while I am acting to preserve my religious and moral integrity, which is priceless."
"The companionship of my Quaker friends was enormously supportive for me. Even though they said little, their gentle and attentive presence greatly enhanced the serious, civil discourse between me and the government's representative. Since the IRS extends to every taxpayer the right to have someone accompany you to an interview, I urge all war tax resisters to plan for this kind of representation, giving advance notice to the revenue office as a courtesy."
Paula Rogge of Austin, TX has been a war tax redirector since she started her medical residency in 1980. She files each year, but donates her unpaid taxes and social security to government and nonprofit groups working for peace and social welfare. Since 1980 she has accrued over $100,000 in taxes and penalties. She warns new employers that the IRS will probably garnish her salary within 3 to 4 years of her starting work, and that when that happens, she will have to move on.
Paula reports, "In the fall of 1997 I received a letter from my IRS agent requesting that I meet with him to discuss my tax situation. I ignored the meeting date, but called and spoke with him about my war tax resistance.
Shortly thereafter, I received a summons to appear at the IRS on January 15, 1998 with information regarding my job, banking accounts, etc. After talking to several other WTRs who had received similar summonses, I decided to appear before the IRS, but not give information about my job. Despite my noncooperation I wanted to show respect for my IRS agent as a person. Local WTR Andy McKenna accompanied me on this visit.
I explained to the agent that I do not like breaking the federal law, but that I was doing so because of a higher law. I pointed out that in the case of the women's suffrage, the civil rights, the anti-Vietnam war and the gay rights movements, individuals had broken the law of the land because they believed it violated more basic laws of respect for human life and human rights.
The agent listened and then shared his memories of his involvement in lunch counter sit-ins in South Carolina in 1957. He also told us about his experiences as a soldier in Vietnam. He mentioned that one of his Nam buddies came back in a body bog, but was refused burial in a white cemetery in his home town because he was Afro-American.
At the end of this session, the agent asked me once again to cooperate with the IRS and either tell him where I worked or agree to make some small monthly payment towards my tax debt. When I said I was unwilling to do either, he said he would regret having to take me to court. We parted on friendly terms and soon after I received a court ordered summons to appear before the IRS on 2/26/98.
I had decided in January that if I received a court-ordered summons to give financial information, I would comply. I was not willing to go to jail to protect my only financial asset which was my wages.
This time, WTR Susan Van Haitsma accompanied me and we had another positive interchange with the agent and his co-worker at the IRS. His co-worker had seen the film An Act of Conscience on HBO, so he was familiar with the WTR movement. He did question my nonpayment of social security taxes. I explained that because the government borrows from the social security trust fund to balance the budget, social security indirectly finances military spending.
When the agent asked this time for my place of employment, I told him. I repeated that I had no other assets. He made a list of my monthly expenses, with my help, then subtracted them from my estimated monthly income. The difference was $165 per month, the amount they could garnish from my salary.
I was surprised, since the last time the IRS garnished my wages, they took everything but $125 a week. We parted again on good terms; Susan and I both felt we had connected with the agents on a personal level. As of the end of April, the IRS had still not garnished my wages, so I continued working at my present job."
Local Group Reports South Bend, IN
Pete Meyers, of the Michiana War Tax Resisters group, hit a new milestone in his WTR career when he spoke before 250 high school students during "chapel time" at Bethany Christian High School in Goshen, IN on April 1st. The invitation came from a young activist- 17-year-old Carol Meyer - who was instrumental in the formation of a "peace club" at the school even though he dropped out the year before. Hi father had just returned from a stint with the Christian Peacemaker Teams on the West Bank in Palestine.
Bethany Christian is a Mennonite high school, which may partly explain their receptivity to the subject. Pete says, "Imagine having a school principal come up to you after a talk and compliment you for being inspirational about WTR!" A number of students also came up after Pete's 20-minute talk to ask questions, including tough ones like, "Where was God in what you spoke about?"
Wally and Juanita Nelson, founding members of the Pioneer Valley WTR group in western Massachusetts, set out on January 15, 1998 for a two-month Greyhound bus tour around the U.S. Juanita says the trip was ostensibly to "see friends and family, to abdicate such responsibilities as hauling wood and water, and to relax and recharge. But we couldn't resist tucking two videos into our luggage, assuring we'd be doing a little work."
Friends and WTR contacts arranged showings of An Act of Conscience in Ashland, OR, Santa Barbara, CA, Philadelphia, and West Virginia. Wally and Juanita's hosts in New Orleans and Santa Fe had private viewings. Each showing sparked spirited questions and comments.
In Birmingham, AL, WTR contact David Waters arranged for them to appear on an early morning call-in radio interview, where some callers thought they were the dumbest of several dumb guests who had ever been on the program! Other callers appreciated their point of view.
Two of Juanita and Wally's most lively and thoughtful sessions were on St. Simon's Island in GA, organized by WTR contact Robert Randall. Twenty-five people crowded a living room to see "You Don't Have to Ride Jim Crow" documenting the 1947 Journey of Reconciliation in which Wally participated. Much of the exchange after the film was about topics such as war tax refusal. There was a similar response the next day at a small gathering at the Esther Society on St. Simon's. Many of these folks had never heard of tax refusal.
Juanita suggests, "It's a good idea to take An Act of Conscience with you on vacation. No proselytizing or harranguing, just thought-provoking entertainment."
Tax Day: A Time to Search our Corporate Souls By Titus Peachey
Tax season is a disquieting time for many in the Mennonite and Brethren in Christ faith community. With peacemaking an integral part of our theology and experience as a people, we are often troubled by the use of our tax dollars to buy weapons of war.
The thought of individually resisting the payment of taxes for war, however, may produce feelings of fear and isolation. Confronted with the 1040 forms due April 15, most of us pay our taxes, and live with an uneasy tension between our faith and our practice.
It is not surprising to find this tension among our institutions, which also exist in the stream of our peace theology and historical experience A common response to the war tax dilemma is to take only those actions for peace that will not jeopardize our "financial nest." While this still leaves much opportunity to do good, it places troubling limits around a prior call to faithfulness.
Peter Goldberger, a experienced attorney on war tax cases, urges institutions to focus first on core values and commitments. What are the values at the center of an institution's life? How do these values, and the principles guiding its program, help an institution respond to the issue of war taxes?
How, for example, might a church agency committed to sharing Christ's peace in our world respond to an employee who, in good conscience, cannot pay for war? These are "first-priority" questions", which lead institutions to draw from their own inner strength and identity as God's servants in our world. Only when these values are placed "center stage" is the institution ready to consider the risks involved.
Institutions and individuals often focus on the legal and financial risks of resistance to payment of war taxes, to the exclusion of equally significant risks to our faith and values that accompany compliance. When itemizing risks involved in war taxes, surely church institutions must consider the risks of compliance. Should not the faithful peace church in these times actively nurture war tax resisters, and find courage for a strong institutional voice against taxes for war? Is this not the present-day task of a church that united against the mass conscription of its young men in World War II?
Let 1,000 new war tax resisters rise up to say "yes" to Christ's peace, and "no" to war's drumbeat. Let our congregations, our mission agencies, credit unions, schools, conferences, and health institutions adopt policies welcoming and supporting this expression of conscience. Ten institutions led by our deepest commitments and hopes could inspire us to a new and creative witness for peace. Let us understand, yet still embrace, the possible risks to our individual and corporate lives. Now is the time to practice courage. Now is the time to practice peace.
Titus Peachey works in peace education with the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. The above was excerpted from an article written for a Mennonite publication this past tax season.
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