Is it ever right to refuse, on principle, to pay taxes?

| History, IRS

Mentor, friend, farmer, war tax refuser Juanita Nelson died on March 9, 2015, and the memorial for her was May 30. Below is a sample of Juanita’s thinking from a point/counterpoint op-ed in the Sunday Republican, Springfield, Mass, April 4, 1993. The article turned up in a folder of miscellaneous documents from Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, the group in Western Massachusetts that Juanita was associated with for the past 30 years.

We Owe It to the World to Not Pay for Wars
By Juanita Nelson

As I struggle to express my deep feelings about refusing, as a matter of principle and humanity, to pay taxes for war, for premeditated mass murder, a plane drones overhead. A frightening image explodes: suppose that plane were loaded with bombs? I would be killed or maimed along with hundreds of others, our ordinary lives shattered.

Not a likely scene here; we have not fought on U.S. soil since the Civil War. We export war. But the ordinary people leading ordinary lives in faraway lands bleed as I bleed, suffer as I suffer.

Do I want to be a party to such deliberate affliction? I will be giving my consent to it if I paid federal taxes. Three-quarters of the federal budget comes from individuals; more than half of it finances war. Paying withholding taxes is the most direct link most of us have to the military.

The question might better be: Is it ever right not to refuse to pay taxes, when that money is used to kill? Does the individual have the right, the duty, to decide for himself or herself what is right?

We stand in danger of making a god of the law. An official decree cannot make a wrong thing right. Must I continue to do harm until the state give me license to stop?

To refuse to pay taxes to say no to violence puts the responsibility where it truly is: with the individual.

Blind obedience is the road to holocaust. It makes our children believe they are expected to engage in violence and war, although we insist that they not kill each other as private citizens. (We kill them if they do.)

A young mother who quit her job so the IRS couldn’t collect withholding, and who can’t afford insurance, says, “When I look at my daughter, I am more resolved than ever not to let my money be used to do things to other babies that I hope would never happen to mine.”

To refuse to pay taxes for incinerating children is an act of compassion.

During the civil rights movement, a social worker spoke glowingly of devotion to nonviolence in the face of assassination and economic reprisal, but added that of course we had to “protest’ the country with arms. When I pointed out the paradox of advocating nonviolence while accepting violence by the state, she mused, “You have a point.”

To refuse to pay taxes of death is to act in accord with religious values.

We make much of free speech. But when it is translated into action, there is little tolerance. As Gen. Alexander Haig noted, “Let them protest all they want, so long as they pay their taxes.”

There is a circular reasoning that leads to the reign of violence. As I wait for you and you wait for me to begin to say no, we sink deeper and deeper into violence. Someone must start.

As I demonstrate with Pioneer Valley War Tax Resistance each April 15, I am asked, “How do you get away with it?” This speaks of paying taxes not from principle, but form fear.

Betsy Corner and Randy Kehler, who risked their home in Colrain, write, “How can we willingly give money to the federal government when we know that it will be used to cause, or threaten, so much harm to other members of our human family?”

With them, I’ll take the risks of peace rather than impose the risks of war upon the world. I will not pay to destroy land and people, near or far.

I say with all the passion in me that it is not only OK, always, to refuse on principle to pay taxes for war. It is imperative that we refuse.


Ballot Box is the Place for Protesting Budget
By Lt. Col. Jay F. Lacklen

When you ask me if it is ever right to refuse on principle to pay taxes the quick answer is, “Yes, it is OK to refuse to pay taxes — if you don’t mind going to jail, or renouncing your citizenship as you leave the country.”

Otherwise, it is not OK.

Tax resistance, in my experience, can be total or specific. The “total” resistance crowd objects to all taxes in principle, regardless of how they are used.

The “specific issue” crowd deducts a portion of their taxes as a protest against specific uses of tax money, such as for defense or foreign aid.

Specific-issue tax avoidance may spring from noble and altruistic emotion, bus can you imagine the mayhem this would cause to the national budget?

If citizens were allowed to withhold a percentage of their income tax as a protest against specific issues, we would soon have the most principled citizenry on earth.

I would personally develop principles on every issue I could think of until I didn’t owe any more tax. And then I would congratulate myself for my noble and heroic actions.

On the specific issue of “war taxes,” I claim a special interest since my pay comes from these receipts.

I’d ask if war-tax resisters disapprove of the Defense Department feeding starving children in Somalia, or taking medicine to sick Russian children in Moscow and Yerevan, Armenia?

Are you indignant that we hauled tons of relief supplies to victims of Hurricane Andrew?

Did you approve of the Allied effort in World War II that defeated Hitler?

Defense isn’t something Americans can vote on weekly.

If you want a standing force for all contingencies, you have to fund it continuously.

You can’t take defense down and put it back up like a tent for every worldwide contingency that occurs.

If we are raising specific objections to our tax system, I have a favorite objection. It is progressive taxation, which I believe punishes excellence and success.

Those in the top academic 10 percent of a high school or college class are award honors for their efforts and excellence. But those in the top 10 percent of wage earners are labeled semi-crooks and greedy robber barons, and are more heavily taxes for their excellence and efforts.

Can you imagine taxing honor roll students by seizing some of their grade and awarding them to “D” students? Perhaps I’ll withhold the last 10 percent of my taxes in protest.

Resistance to all taxes on principle has an appealing ring to it, especially as the April 15 tax deadline approaches.

But there is a social contract we all have with our government, by law, that we are obligated to pay taxes.

I’m aware that here are legal finesses to tax statutes, and I have even found some of them more than half-baked, but the entire discussion misses the point.

If you don’t like taxes, generally or specifically, express your displeasure in the voting booth, not at the tax window.

Your politicians did this to you, not the tax man.

Don’t try to win from the tax man what you couldn’t win on the ballot.

At the time of this writing, Lt. Col. Jay Lacklen was deputy commander of the 439th Operations Group at Westover Air Reserve Base Chicopee, Massachusetts.

One thought on “Is it ever right to refuse, on principle, to pay taxes?”

  1. Ed Hedemann says:

    Though I understand Juanita’s piece was in response to the usual pay-your-taxes-vote-love-it-or-leave-it opinion, I really don’t think there’s much reason in propagating establishment opinions in NWTRCC blog.

    The powers that be have plenty — and exceedingly pervasive — forums, so do we really need to offer them ours as well? If the Lt. Col.’s opinion were especially informative, imaginative, presented unusual arguments, or was one of those amusing over-the-top rants, that might be worth printing. But that isn’t the case here.

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