Recently I attended a talk on ways to protest paying income taxes that fund wars, particularly the Iraq war. The speaker was a longtime Quaker peace-activist who decided that although he supports income taxes when they are used for peaceful purposes, he could no longer in good conscience pay the portion of his income-tax bill that funds war.
The War Resisters League’s analysis of the U.S. government’s FY-2009 budget (see links at end of post) shows that about 54% of federal spending is for military purposes. The total budget is $2.65 trillion, so 54% is about $1.45 trillion.
The speaker made several noteworthy points about war-tax resistance:
- War-tax resisters are not opposed to taxes. They believe that as citizens of a democracy, they have a responsibility to pay their share of national costs for education, infrastructure, poverty reduction, etc. However, they are opposed to paying for violence and destruction, i.e., war. They strongly distinguish and distance themselves from people who are opposed to paying income taxes in general.
- Pay non-war taxes. According to the War Resisters League, 46% of your tax bill pays for things other than war. Pay that.
- Pay for military pensions. Some military expenses provide pensions and health services to veterans. Many war-tax resisters count this as “non-war” spending because they believe our veterans earned our support for the sacrifices they have made. Taking military pensions out of the 54% mentioned above, reduces it to somewhere around 40% of the total U.S. budget.
- You won’t go to jail. Many people don’t like paying for war, but do it because they worry they will go to jail or prison. That won’t happen. The IRS doesn’t want to incarcerate people; it just wants the money.
- The IRS moves slowly. If you stop paying war-taxes, the immediate response will be… nothing. For a long time — sometimes years — you’ll hear nothing from the IRS. Then they will send you letters asking you to pay back-taxes and accrued penalties. The letters will continue for a while, then the IRS will threaten to attach your bank accounts. Eventually, they will do that and collect the money you owe. All this moves very slowly: over a period of years — sometimes many years.
- Most war-tax resisters don’t hide their money. They don’t stash it in offshore accounts or mattresses. They keep it in normal accounts, where the IRS can find it and, sometimes, collect it. The point is not to pay war-taxes willingly.
- The IRS won’t take your property. The IRS wants the money you owe them; not your property. In the past, the IRS occasionally grabbed resisters’ property, but found that homes, land, cars, furniture, etc. are too hard to convert into money, so they basically stopped doing that. (The speaker told a story in which the IRS years ago took a war-tax resister’s furniture and sold it at auction, and the war-tax resister’s friends and family went to the auction, bought it back, and gave it all back to him.)
- There are legal ways. There are many ways to protest paying war-taxes, some of which incur no legal liability at all. Two such ways are:
- Don’t make enough. Reduce your income below the taxable level. Many war-tax resisters live this way.
- Pay under protest. Include in your tax return a letter saying you are paying your taxes under protest (see sample letter below). Such letters are filed by the IRS with your tax records but have no legal consequences whatsoever.
- Support a Peace Tax. Join the campaign to create a Peace Tax Fund, so that taxpayers who are opposed to war-taxes can allocate their tax payments into a fund that will not be used for military purposes.
Sample Letter for Paying Taxes Under Protest (PeacePundit version)
To whom it may concern:
I am determined to fulfill my responsibilities as a citizen of the United States. One such responsibility is paying income taxes. Income taxation is a valid way for a democratic nation to spread the costs of education, infrastructure development, community development, poverty alleviation, environmental protection, and other constructive causes fairly among its citizenry.
One of my responsibilities as a citizen is to let my government know that I believe it to be seriously misguided in using violence and destruction as a means of addressing international problems.
I am opposed to paying taxes to support the United State’s involvement in wars. In particular, the U.S.-led wars against Iraq and Afghanistan were poorly conceived and have been even more poorly executed. They have caused many deaths and injuries that would not otherwise have occurred. They have caused incalculable damage, and have increased, rather than diminished, anti-U.S. sentiment and the threat of terrorism.
Therefore, I am filing my IRS 1040 form and paying my taxes under protest.
I support the establishment of the proposed Peace Tax Fund, which if enacted into law would allow conscientious opponents of war to direct their tax payments into programs that support community life and constructive efforts in the U.S. and around the world.
Thank you for your attention.
Social security number:
Copies to: (congressional reps, newspapers, etc.)