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New York City Council Hears Peace Tax Testimonies
June 9, 2005

Over seventy-five people braved the blazing sun and sweltering concrete yesterday to call for a Peace Tax Fund. The gathering, on the steps of New York City Hall, marked the beginning of a historic afternoon in which the New York City Council heard testimony on Resolution 367. This resolution supports the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill - a Congressional Bill to establish a non-military fund into which conscientious objectors could pay their federal taxes. Resolution 367 is the first city council resolution of its kind.

The diverse group of Peace Tax Fund supporters stood together in front of City Hall displaying colorful banners and signs during a press conference at 1 p.m. Council Member Bill Perkins, the lead sponsor of the resolution, moderated the press conference at which speakers representing Muslim and Christian organizations spoke, as well as Leslie Cagan of United For Peace and Justice.

The hour-long hearing took place before the State and Federal Legislation Committee, chaired by Joel Rivera. Twenty-one people gave testimonies and often pushed the limits on the two-minute per person time allowance. While many speakers had to cut off their statements early due to time constraints, Mr. Rivera assured them that the entirety of their written testimony would be included in the official record of the hearing.

In the first testimony of the hearing, Marian Franz, Executive Director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, gave an introductory explanation of the Peace Tax Fund Bill. She also read from a letter to the IRS from a conscientious objector stating why he cannot, in good conscience, pay his taxes. Among his reasons is idolatry -- trusting in weapons rather than in God. This idolatry is even more explicit when these machines of war are named after gods, such as the Titan missiles and Poseidon submarines. When programs for children's health and education are cut to pay for these military machines, he asks: "Are we sacrificing our children to the gods?"

Several speakers focused on the level and costs of U.S. militarism. Frida Berrigan, of the World Policy Institute, noted in her testimony that the U.S. spends as much money on its military as the next 32 countries combined. Walter Fields, from the Community Services Society, said his organization does not have an official stance on military spending, but that they do see the lack of government money for community needs. He supports this legislation as a way of drawing attention to domestic needs.

The speakers represented a wide variety of affiliations and political perspectives. Forrest Montgomery, formerly on the staff of National Association of Evangelicals, introduced himself as a non-pacifist. Montgomery went on to explain that he strongly supports the Peace Tax Fund Bill because of his belief in religious freedom. "It would be ennobling if men and women of good will, of whatever faith (or no faith) would lend their wholehearted support to remedial legislation because they believe in religious freedom for all," said Montgomery.

Reverend Michael Banks, of the New York City Mennonite Council, talked about the energy and enthusiasm this movement to pay taxes for peace, not war, has brought to the people of his church. Linda Chidsey, presiding clerk of the New York Yearly Meeting of Friends, and Ruth Wenger, pastor of North Bronx Mennonite Church, put the Peace Tax Fund in the historical context of their religious traditions.

Colleen Kelly, co-director of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, talked personally about the death of her brother in the World Trade Center attacks and her desire to bring the perpetrators of that crime to justice. The U.S. response to those attacks has just created more violence. She likened paying for the U.S. military to paying for a vacuum cleaner that doesn't work. We wouldn't put up with the latter, so why do we put up with the former?

Several war tax resisters explained to the panel of council members why they don't pay taxes for military purposes. Ruth Benn, of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, spoke on behalf of the larger movement not to pay for war.

Other speakers included Rev. Angela Boatright, Fellowship of Reconciliation; Rev. Osagyefu Uhuru Sekou, National Director of Clergy and Laity Concerned about Iraq; Nia Mason, of Action for Community Empowerment; Jocelyn Perry, Middle Collegiate Church Christian Peacemaker Team; and Rosa Packard, Conscience and Peace Tax International. (A full list of those who testified and transcripts of their statements will be posted on our website as soon as they are available.)

Following the hearing, Council Member Perkins spoke to a group of organizers and those who testified. Perkins was pleased that five out of the nine council members from the State and Federal Legislation Committee were present for at least some of the hearing. The well-attended press conference and good visuals helped to create more interest for this issue, he said. Perkins also noted the important timing of this hearing focusing on the use of our tax dollars: it happened in the middle of the City Council's budget-setting process.

The hearing is a milestone, but the resolution still needs to be voted out of the committee before the whole City Council will decide on it. Currently, nine members of the 51-member City Council are cosponsors - Perkins, Charles Barron, Gale A. Brewer, Helen D. Foster, Robert Jackson, Letitia James, Margarita Lopez, Miguel Martinez, and Hiram Monserrate.

For more photos, visit the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee web site.

Click here to read the testimonies of those who spoke before the council.

Click here to read the official transcript.

(Click on an image to enlarge.)
The Peace Tax Fund 10-foot banner made its debut at the press conference on the steps of New York City Hall.
Council Member Bill Perkins (left, beige jacket), who is the lead sponsor of Resolution 367, moderated the press conference and encouraged speakers to be brief so we could get out of the hot sun. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Benn)
NCPTF Executive Director Marian Franz speaks at the press conference
Reverend Michael Banks from NYC Mennonite Council speaks at the press conference
Imam Talib Abdur Rashid, Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood speaks at the press conference
Leslie Cagan, national coordinator of United for Peace and Justice, speaks at the press conference. UFPJ provided press releases and logistical support for the press conference/hearing
Elizabeth Enloe, regional director of American Friends Service Committee in New York, speaks at the press conference
Nadette Stasa, volunteer with the NYC Campaign made sure Gandhi's presence was felt. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Benn)
Council Members listen to testimonies during the hearing. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Benn)
Forest Montgomery, lawyer and formerly on staff at the National Association of Evangelicals, testifies in support of the Peace Tax Fund on the basis of religious freedom, even though he is not a conscientious objector.
Testifying before the Council, (l to r): Forrest Montgomery, National Association of Evangelicals; Marian Franz, NCPTF; Rev. Michael Banks, NYC Mennonite Council; Walter Fields, Director of Political Development, Community Services Society. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Benn)
Panel 2: Colleen Kelly, Co-Director of September 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows; Simon Harak, War Resisters League; Rev. Angela Boatright, Fellowship of Reconciliation; Frida Berrigan, World Policy Institute; Ruth Wenger, Mennonite Church in the Bronx. (Photo courtesy of Ruth Benn)
Council Member Perkins invited hearing participants back to his office following the hearing for a reception.


New York City Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund
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Fax: 212-543-0240
Address: 253 Lenox Ave., 2, NY, NY 10027
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