Monday, 16 April 2007

One More Step towards Conscience Objection to War

A number of people were talking about peace tax and like-minded things at the weekend, so I thought I'd share this, from my friend Nadine Hoover in the States. It's nearly two months old, but hey.

Early on February 22, 2007, thirty-three Quakers from all over New York, New England and even the U.K. gathered at the Federal Courthouse in Manhattan for a special meeting for worship in preparation for the argument of an appeal by Daniel Jenkins in his case of conscience against the Internal Revenue Service. Dan Jenkins is bearing witness to the leading of his conscience that paying taxes for war is wrong. Following this leading he paid his federal income tax into a special escrow account, refusing voluntary payment until the government agrees to use the money only for non-military purposes. For this, he is being charged not only for the taxes and ordinary penalties and interest, but an additional $ 5,000 fine for daring to challenge the government in Tax Court rather than accepting the penalty assessments.

Fred Dettmer was the lawyer who argued the appeal on behalf of Dan Jenkins. Relying primarily on the US “Religious Freedom Restoration Act” (RFRA), he told the Court that the government can and must find a way to accommodate Dan by honoring his conscientious insistence that his tax dollars not be drafted to pay for war. In this way Dan can meet his obligations to the state, as he wishes to do, without violating the dictates of his conscience. He explained that the RFRA puts the burden of accommodation on the government and the IRS has demonstrated through the campaign contributions that it is able to accommodate. He also presented Dan Jenkins' case that the New York State Constitution Article 9 assures the citizen's rights to liberty of conscience as a critical element of democracy. This constitutional law predates and outweighs the federal powers to tax for war. This is the first time the court will be ruling on this legal argument and there is nothing frivolous about it. A separate brief was submitted by New York Yearly Meeting of Quakers as a “Friend of the Court.”

Following the argument, Friends discussed the appeal and opportunities now being created for others to make formal statements of their own conscientious objection to war taxes. A conference on the subject was also held over the weekend at Purchase Friends Meeting. The conference discussed the possibility of other legal actions advancing similar claims.

One area opening for anyone opposed to paying war taxes is to create a personal statement of conscience. This could also serve as evidence to support a claim that limitation of one’s tax dollars to non-military uses is genuinely based on conscience, something that might serve as the basis to require accommodation by IRS in the event that Dan Jenkins wins his appeal, or Congress passes the Peace Tax Fund bill. These statements are being gathered and maintained by the NYYM subcommittee on Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation comprised of Friends who share a strong leading for “tax resistance” to war and other military expenditures. More information is available from Conscience & Peace Tax International and from the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.

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