In the Dec.
29 New York Times, George Bush said of Osama bin Laden: "His
vision of the world is one in which there is no freedom of expression, freedom
of religion, and/or freedom of conscience." But in the president's zealous
fervor to export democracy at the end of a gun barrel, the he has denied many
people these very freedoms. From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, for Muslims and antiwar
protesters in the U.S., the Bush administration has run roughshod over civil
liberties. Although I am not being detained or tortured, I am also paying a
price for freedom.
As another tax year ends, many wage earners start preparing their 1040 forms
for the Internal Revenue Service. Meanwhile, we members of Austin
Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (ACOMT), a local peace group,
are preparing to suffer the consequences of our principled refusal to pay taxes
that fund war.
In 2004, ACOMT members experienced an increase in IRS seizures of our wages
and bank accounts. A state worker had a bank account seized twice, and he recently
received more garnishment notices from the IRS. A nonprofit employee who is
a Catholic and an Army veteran was forced to reduce his income to avoid repeat
levies. A Quaker emergency room physician, whose car was seized in 1991, was
recently visited at her home by an IRS agent and faces possible seizure of her
wages and another car. A teacher who is new to war tax resistance has already
begun receiving collection notices. A housecleaner and artist continues living
intentionally below the taxable level to legally avoid paying war taxes. In
the fall, after 11 years of inaction, the IRS garnished my wages by taking all
but $662.50 – the monthly federal poverty level – from my paychecks.
The $465 billion-a-year war machine has caused
the deaths over 1,300 U.S. military personnel and as many as 100,000 Iraq civilians.
According to the National Priorities
Project, the Iraq war has cost Austin families $375 million to date. War
tax resisters want to pay our taxes, but we cannot in good conscience pay others
to kill in our names. We regularly redirect thousands of our tax dollars to
humanitarian and peaceful causes. Last April 15, ACOMT gave money to the American
Friends Service Committee's relief efforts in Iraq and to Austin's Nonmilitary
Options for Youth. Just before Christmas, we made a donation to Casa
Marianella and Posada Esperanza,
two East Austin immigrant shelters. This is a drop in the bucket, but it is
one drop less for the barrelfuls of blood being shed in the war in Iraq. It
means a lot to the nonprofit groups struggling to fill the canyon in human-services
funding left by the massive Pentagon budget. As much as 50 percent of federal
income taxes (which does not include trust funds like Social Security or Medicare)
go for past and present military spending, according to a federal
There ought to be a law (since the First Amendment apparently does not apply
to us) that would enable us to direct our taxes to a Treasury Department fund
dedicated to nonmilitary purposes. All of the members want to be able to legally
pay their taxes for life-affirming programs. ACOMT believes the Religious
Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill is the win-win solution. The legislation would
restore civil liberties to this minority group of taxpayers by resolving the
conflict between the tax code and First Amendment rights. It would extend the
legal precedent in the Selective Service Act of 1940 so that conscientious objectors
would pay their taxes for nonmilitary purposes. The bill has 44 congressional
co-sponsors. ACOMT has built a statewide coalition of supporters, including
several dozen Austin and Texas community groups, clergy, and over 1,000 citizens.
Numerous national secular and religious organizations also endorse the effort.
Despite bipartisan support, the bill sits in the Ways and Means Committee, where
it has not had a hearing in over 10 years.
Thad Crouch, a former soldier, said, "In a nation founded for religious freedom, why is it against the law to love my enemies and to hold a job?"
ACOMT continues to be in contact with congressional representatives about the
proposed legislative relief. The group has been in Austin for over 20 years
with different members and is the Texas affiliate of the National Campaign for
a Peace Tax Fund and the National War Tax Resistance
Coordinating Committee. Our group believes that the Religious
Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill is a win-win solution for us and the government.
The bill would grant civil liberties to our minority class of taxpayers by extending
to war tax resisters the legal protections the Military
Selective Service Act gave conscientious objectors. It would increase tax
revenues and decrease the IRS' collection burden. However, it would not reduce
the military budget or "open the floodgates" to other taxpayers.
Over 1,000 Central Texans have signed a petition in support of the bill, and
dozens of Austin clergy, community groups, and statewide organizations like
the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas
have endorsed it. Many
national secular and religious organizations – even the president's own
denomination, the United Methodist Church
– support the National Campaign for a
Peace Tax Fund. The bill has the bipartisan backing of 44
congressmen, including three Texan representatives. Despite this support,
it has not had a hearing in a decade, while conscientious objectors around the
U.S. have endured many civil liberties violations by the IRS.
Meanwhile, the war – and Americans paying half
their taxes to fund it – continues unabated. Long-time war tax resister
Karl Meyer recently
said, "If progressives fail to resist militarism or refuse participation
in it through the one form of participation that is demanded, that is to pay
taxes, they should give up their pretensions to being in opposition." Those
too faint at heart to try even symbolic
war tax resistance can and should safely support the Peace
The upcoming election in Iraq is a supposed step toward freedom there. But
in the U.S., some of us are still struggling to enjoy freedom of conscience.
must be defended," the president once remarked. He should make a New
Year's resolution to follow his own advice.
(For more information, e-mail Andy McKenna.)