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.