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Commentary: My Taxes As Fuel For His War

This op-ed by Andy McKenna appeared in the Austin American-Statesman on January 19, 2005. McKenna, an Austin resident, volunteers for the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. He can be reached at peacetax_tx@yahoo.com

President Bush recently 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 Bush's fervor to export democracy at the end of a gun barrel, he has denied many people these very freedoms. From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib to Muslims and anti-war protestors in the United States, the Bush administration has run roughshod over civil liberties. And 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, I and other members of Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (ACOMT, www.acomt.org) are preparing to suffer the consequences of our principled refusal to pay taxes that finance war.

In 2004, our group's members saw an increase in IRS seizures of our wages and bank accounts. A state worker had a bank account seized twice and recently received more garnishment notices from the IRS. 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 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 of more than 1,300 U.S. military personnel and as many as 17,000 Iraqi civilians. According to the National Priorities Project, the Iraq war has cost Austin families $375 million to date.

I and other 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 La Posada, two East Austin immigrant shelters.

This is a drop in the bucket, but it is one drop less for the barrelsful of blood being shed in Iraq. And it means a lot to the nonprofit groups struggling to fill the canyon in human services funding left by the massive Pentagon budget.

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 non-military purposes. Our group believes that the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill is a win-win solution. It would grant civil liberties to our minority class of taxpayers by extending to war-tax resisters the legal protections that the Military Selective Service Act gave conscientious objectors. It would increase tax revenues and decrease the IRS's collection burden—without reducing the military budget or "opening the floodgates" to other taxpayers.

More than 1,000 Central Texans have signed a petition supporting the bill, and dozens of Austin clergy, community groups and statewide organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas have endorsed it. Many national secular and religious organizations—even Bush's own denomination, the United Methodist Church—support the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (www.peacetaxfund.org). The bill has the bipartisan backing of 44 members of Congress, including three representatives from Texas.

Despite such support, it has not had a hearing in a decade, while conscientious objectors around the country have endured many civil liberties violations by the IRS.

The Jan. 30 election in Iraq is a supposed step toward freedom. But in Austin, some of us are still struggling to enjoy freedoms such as no taxation without representation. "Freedom has been attacked. Freedom must be defended," Bush once declared. He should make a New Year's resolution to follow his own advice.