Category Archives: Quaker News

The War Tax Alternative

One feature that distinguishes Quakers is the power and purpose of the Peace Testimony. Friends believe every person is a child of God, and they recognize God’s Light in everyone, including their adversaries. With that deeply held conviction, Quakers generally oppose war, believing it is inconsistent with God’s will. If we are asked to serve in the world as instruments of reconciliation and love, how can we wage war?

Most Americans today are unlikely to face being sent off to war against their will because our country has no military draft. Still, many Quakers are uncomfortable with American military might and the knowledge that their taxes support military operations. Some determined souls become war tax resistors, refusing to pay the portion of their taxes that would fund the Pentagon’s budget or putting that money aside in an escrow account rather than paying it to the federal government. But such civil disobedience can put resistors in jeopardy. Some have had their wages garnished or their cars and houses seized to pay back taxes.

A bill now before Congress provides an alternative path: it would give taxpayers opposed to participation in war in any form based upon their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs or training the right to have their federal taxes used for nonmilitary governmental purposes only. Pacifists could be faithful to their beliefs without withholding their taxes from the government.

The proposed legislation, called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act (H.R. 2377), was introduced last May by Rep. John Lewis of Georgia; it’s the latest version of a bill first introduced in Congress in 1972. The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, a Washington, D.C., a not-for-profit social welfare organization, has worked to build public awareness and support for such a fund since the 1970s.

The campaign’s founder, retired physician David R. Bassett, developed strong moral objections to war and military service growing up during World War II. After graduating from medical school in the 1950s, he was directed to join the military medical corps. While not yet a Quaker himself, Dr. Bassett argued, with the help of Quaker friends, that he be allowed alternative service as a conscientious objector. After a long campaign of letters to the Selective Service, he was granted CO status. Instead of serving in the military, Dr. Bassett spent two years working with the Quakers’ American Friends Service Committee as a doctor in India.

Later in life Dr. Bassett started the campaign for a peace tax fund because he recognized that – while thousands of Americans feel conflicted about paying taxes for military purposes – most are not willing to become war tax resistors. The fund would allow those opposed to war to pay 100% of their taxes without violating their religious or ethical convictions, and it would also allow the government to collect the taxes it is due by law.

As Quakers, we feel strongly the need for alternatives to supporting war. If you are interested in the campaign for the peace tax fund, visit the website at peacetaxfund.org. There are many ways you can help.

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.

Finding an Alternative Path for Those Who Live With Violence

Several years ago, Reno Friends Meeting decided to dedicate most of its charitable giving to the Nevada Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP), a group of volunteers who go into Nevada prisons to lead non-violence workshops for inmates.

Practicing non-violence is a central Quaker principle.  As the Peace Testimony of Pacific Yearly Meeting says,

Friends work for reconciliation and active nonviolent resolutions of conflict. Friends have traditionally supported conscientious objectors to military service, while holding in love, but disagreeing with, those who feel that they must enter the armed forces. Friends oppose all war as inconsistent with God’s will.  Recognizing that violence and war typically arise from unjust circumstances, Friends address the causes of war by working to correct social injustice, and by strengthening communities, institutions and processes to provide nonviolent alternatives to military force.

AVP is an international association of volunteer groups, active in 33 states in the USA and in 50 countries. The Nevada branch receives no financial support from AVP’s parent organizations so Reno Friends Meeting furnishes much of what the volunteers need to cover the cost of workshop materials and travel to prison locations such as Lovelock, 100 miles northeast of Reno.

AVP began in 1975 as a collaboration between inmates in New York’s Green Haven Prison and Quakers interested in working with youth gangs and teens at risk. The program spread throughout New York State prisons and to other states as a prison program and, in some places, as a community program for people from all walks of life.

AVP, which builds on a spiritual base of respect and caring for self and others, draws participants and trainers from all religions, races, sexual identities, and walks of life. Its three-day workshops provide an intense learning experience that teaches conflict resolution skills designed to lead participants to new ways of being in the world.

And the AVP workshops appear to be working:  a recent academic study in one California prison found AVP workshops were effective in reducing behavioral misconduct by those who previously had disciplinary infractions during their incarcerations and among more educated inmates.

Nevada AVP coordinator Rita Sloan visited with Reno Friends last month accompanied by a recently paroled inmate who became an AVP trainer while in prison.  The parolee told us that AVP changed his life.  The parolee said he had retreated to a very isolated emotional place before attending his first workshop.  But AVP provided a safe environment to discuss his fears and hopes, and he learned to understand conflict and how to deal with it.  Once his parole is complete, he hopes to return to the prisons to volunteer again as a trainer.

Mixing inmates and members of the community within each workshop is integral to AVP, Sloan said.  Community volunteers must first be cleared to enter the prisons — a process that can take months — but the volunteers find the workshop experience is well worth the hassle. “We all have things to learn about non-violence,” said Sloan.  “We all have the seeds of violence in us, even if it is just through our words and gestures.  Everyone takes away something important from the workshops.”

If you are interested knowing more about AVP, go to our AVP page. You can also contact Rita Sloan by email:  rwrksloan (at) hotmail.com .

In the Light,

Wendy Swallow, Clerk of Reno Friends Meeting

 email: wswallow54 (at) gmail.com

The opinions expressed above are not necessarily those of Reno Friends Meeting.