ONLINE Edition of the Summer 1997 Newsletter
|Peace Tax Fund Amendment Turned Down; Supporters Cite Vote as
Legislative Update: Fishing on the Other Side
News from the Campaign
The Peace Tax Fund Bill at Twenty-Five
Tax Season Ideas for Outreach
A Special Moment, A Special Invitation
Past Newsletters:Summer 1995, Fall 1995, Spring 1996, Summer 1996, Fall 1996, Spring 1997
PEACE TAX FUND AMENDMENT TURNED DOWN;
SUPPORTERS CITE VOTE AS PROGRESS
On Thursday, June 12, the first-ever vote on the Peace Tax Fund bill came as Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) attempted to attach the proposal to Republican sponsored tax cut package. The House Ways and Means Committee rejected the amendment on a voice vote. Campaign officials called the vote bittersweet. "Supporters can be pleased that the increased validity of our cause produced this first-ever vote," said Campaign executive director Marian Franz. "However, the outcome shows we still have much work to do."
At the beginning, expectations for Rep. Lewis' initiative were high. Rep. Lewis met with Ways and Means Chairman Bill Archer (R-TX) and told the Campaign he felt he had gained Archer's support for the amendment. Lewis even understood Archer would include the Peace Tax Fund language in the chair's mark, thus greatly increasing its chances of approval. However, when details of the chair's mark were released, the Peace Tax Fund was not included. An aide to Lewis could only guess it was IRS opposition that caused the proposal to be excluded.
Supporters were also disappointed by the lack of support for the Lewis amendment by other members of the committee. During the deliberation, only Lewis spoke in favor of the proposal. When asked about this, Rep. Lewis said the issue made people uncomfortable.
However, not all the news was bad. According to an aide to Rep. Lewis, none of the committee's sixteen Democrats voted against the amendment. Campaign lobbyists believe the vote boosted the profile the Peace Tax Fund Fund to members on the committee.
It was a fatigued Ways and Means Committee that considered the amendment. Committee members had worked until the early hours of the morning on two previous nights. The air was charged with bitter partisan debate around hotly contested items in the tax cut package.
Deliberations on the Peace Tax Fund amendment started well. Rep. Lewis made a powerful introduction speaking on behalf of taxpayers whose just claim to freedom of conscience has been denied. The Committee then heard from an official from the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation who reported that the Peace Tax Fund would raise revenue for the Treasury.
The tide soon turned. The Joint Tax Committee official went on to say, in his view, there are problems of proliferation with the amendment. A representative from the Clinton administration, when asked, also testified that they thought the amendment was inappropriate.
Rep. Lewis then scolded the Administration for repeatedly not responding to his request to work with him to develop a proposal that met their concerns. However, the damage was done. When Chairman Bill Archer (R-TX) called for a voice vote, the amendment was rejected.
The vote left Marian Franz frustrated. She and other backers had less than a week to educate the thirty-nine committee members about the proposal and to mobilize grassroots support. Much of the that time Campaign lobbyists were unable to meet with tax aides who were overwhelmed by last minute maneuvering.
Plans for the Future
Campaign lobbyists met with Rep. Lewis' office shortly after the vote to outline their next tasks. They agreed to introduce the bill and to seek a prominent Republican member of the Ways and Means to become a cosponsor. Next, the Campaign will go back to the White House and to see if the IRS can be persuaded to remove its objections. Finally, they will look to introduce the bill's language as an amendment on future tax proposals that come before the committee.
The 105th Congress will see a different version of the Peace Tax Fund bill introduced by different faces. Campaign officials believe the revised proposal and new leadership will increase the chances for passage. Congressional supporters are also pleased with the changes. "That's what you call fishing on the other side of the boat," said the aide to one cosponsor, referring to the Biblical story of a successful catch only after fishermen cast their nets on the other side.
Revisions on the legislation started in earnest after the elections. Campaign lobbyists met and recognized that the best chance for moving the bill depended upon gaining the support of a broader range in Congress (Republicans and conservative Democrats) and obtaining help from the White House.
The lobbyists identified a number of changes that could broaden support. The first would be to approach the legislation from a religious liberty perspective and ride the bipartisan wave of support for religious freedom issues. Another is to focus the legislation on the concept of conscientious objection to military taxation and de-emphasize the mechanics of operating a peace tax fund. Giving fewer detailed instructions in the legislation could also raise the comfort level of the IRS. A third change would be to shorten the proposal to make it easier to attach as an amendment. As one lobbyist put it,"The message should be: something's wrong, fix it. It does not have to be complicated, just do it." Finally, the lobbyists wanted to sharpen the focus of the bill by mandating only where taxes of COs cannot be spent and not attempting to control how taxes in the fund should be spent.
Lobbyists also recognized there are essentials of the legislation that cannot be surrendered. The legislation needs to be compatible with the beliefs of the Campaign's membership. Second, any proposal needs to keep detailed and specific definitions of military outlays. Last, the Campaign needs to insure an accounting of the tax dollars of COs with a separate reporting mechanism.
A revised version of the bill was drafted during the spring based on these guidelines. It included the following changes from the legislation in the last Congress: To add to the religious liberty profile, the name of the legislation was changed to the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act. References to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment were also added. To focus on conscientious objection, the legislation highlights the punitive measures taken against conscientious objectors and notes that these taxpayers have sought legal relief for 25 years
Language about where the taxes of conscientious objectors would be spent also was struck. The revised version playsdown the mechanics by shortening or removing parts about the designation, transfer, and reporting of taxes by conscientious objectors. Once the bill becomes law, supporters believe many of these details would be worked out.
The Campaign's board of directors thoroughly reviewed the draft at the May meeting. Members suggested the revised version increase the level of taxes designated to the peace tax fund be raised from the current military level (24% in 1996) to one hundred percent. Others questioned whether the "Religious Freedom" surname meant only faith-based conscientious objectors would qualify. There is, of course, no such restriction. Court rulings have broadened the definition of conscientious objection to include those with moral and ethical beliefs against war. The board approved the general direction of the revision and the bill was sent to the new cosponsors.
Rep. John Lewis, a Democrat, represents the 5th Congressional District of Georgia, which encompasses most of Atlanta. He was first elected to the House in 1986 after more than 25 years of dedicated and often dangerous civil rights work. He participated in the Freedom Rides, spoke at the March on Washington, coordinated the Selma-to-Montgomery march. Rep. Lewis is a disciple of nonviolence and has supported the Peace Tax Fund since earl y in his Congressional career. Rep. Lewis will be taking the place of now retired Rep. Andy Jacobs as the lead House cosponsor.
When asked if Rep. Lewis was ready to introduce the bill, he indicated he wanted first to contact the IRS and ask them to help develop the legislation. Unfortunately, the IRS was unresponsive to Rep. Lewis' request. In June, Rep. Lewis sent a letter to his Congressional colleagues urging them to cosponsor the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act. It is expected he will introduce the bill sometime in September.
Taking the place of Sen. Hatfield is Sen. Tom Harkin, a Democrat of Iowa. Sen. Harkin was one of the Democrats' Watergate babies, first elected to the House in 1974. He was elected to the Senate ten years later. Sen. Harkin served in the Navy during Vietnam, an experience that cast him as a strong opponent to U.S. military intervention and aid to right-wing governments. He ran for President in 1992, and has been a longtime supporter of the Peace Tax Fund.
"I like it," was Sen. Harkin's response to the revised bill. But he quickly added, "You need a Republican." As a liberal Democrat, Sen. Harkin can play an educative role, and present a challenge, but real progress will require bipartisan support. Regarding the bill's chances he said, "You never know about these things. They can languish for a long time and suddenly just take off." No date is set for Senate introduction at this time.
Copies of the revised bill are available at the Campaign's web site or by sending a self-addressed stamped envelope to the national office.
RFRA Struck Down, Cases Continue
Just before it adjourned in June, the Supreme Court struck down a federal law intended to protect religious practices from government interference. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress in 1993, said the government must have a compelling interest in order to violate religious freedom and must use the least restrictive means when doing so. Congressional and religious leaders vowed to fight the court's ruling. In a fierce dissent on the 6 to 3 vote, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor took the extraordinary step of reading her objections from the bench. Part of her objection noted the history of conscientious objection to military service by religious groups as an example where government had accommodated religious practice even at great risk to society. Plans by war tax resisters to use RFRA as a defense against punitive actions by the IRS continue. The first case will be heard on October 14. It involves Priscilla Adams, a Quaker who seeks relief from IRS penalties. Attorneys for Ms. Adams believe the court's ruling against RFRA does not apply to the federal government.
The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee reports that media coverage of conscientious objection during this tax season was eclectic. On tax day, the national cable channel Cinemax aired An Act of Conscience, a documentary on the seizure by the IRS of the house of war tax resisters Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner. This constituted the largest known viewing of a documentary on conscientious objection to military taxation ever.
Coverage in other national media outlets included an interview with Betsy Corner on CNN, a quote on Monitor Radio, a two-hour appearance by a Texas war tax resister and tax attorney on Jim Hightower's radio program, an interview on Pacifica radio, a photo and quote of a war tax resister in Money Daily, and the pick-up of a Minneapolis article by the Associated Press. Newspapers in Indianapolis, Seattle, Spokane, Milwaukee, Lancaster (PA) and St. Petersburg (FL), among others, also ran pieces.
A search on Lexis/Nexis news service on the terms "Peace Tax Fund" and "war tax resister" revealed 181 articles have been published on the topics since 1978.
International CO Day Observed
May 15 was observed as International Conscientious Objection Day (ICOD) in many countries around the world. ICOD was founded in the eighties in western Europe to raise public awareness about issues of conscientious objection. The focus has usually been on military service. However, this year activists in Yugoslavia used the occasion to educate about conscientious objection to military taxation. In Belgrade, human rights groups led by Women in Black distributed flyers in the main square containing information about war tax resistance.
All members are welcome to make nominations to the board of directors of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. The board serves as the policy-setting body of the organization. Board members must be able to attend two meetings a year. New board members will be installed at the annual meeting in the spring of 1998. For more information, contact the national office.
New Resources Now Available
A limited number of copies of the proceedings from the Sixth International Conference on peace tax campaigns and war tax resistance (held in London) are now available. This resource gives a window to the exciting work going on around the globe on behalf of freedom of conscience. See the resources section to order.
Need to know the cost of a helicopter? Who's at war around the world? How many nuclear weapons there are? Then you need the 1997 Military Almanac published by the Center for Defense Information. The Almanac provides detailed information on military forces, budgets, and much more. The Almanac is available for $15 from the Center for Defense Information,1500 Mass. Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20005. (202)862-0700, email: email@example.com.
A mistake was made in the Congressional Directory printed in the spring newsletter. The first two columns of Michigan senators Abraham and Levin should have been switched. We regret any confusion this may have caused. Back copies of that issue are still available. See the resources section to order.
Do you remember "the way we were" twenty-five years agowhen the Peace Tax Fund bill was first introduced in Congress? Perhaps you were reading Jonathan Livingston Seagull or The Best and the Brightest or perusing the first issue of MS magazine.
In 1972 President Nixon made historic trips to China and the Soviet Union. He and Vice President Agnew were reelected in the biggest Republican landslide in history. That same year police arrested five men in a burglary of Democratic Party headquarters, a harbinger of the president's downfall. The Democratic Party proved unable to support its candidate, Sen. George McGovern who vowed to end U.S. military presence in Vietnam. He also supported cuts in defense spending and amnesty for those who had chosen prison or exile over military service. Alabama governor George Wallace was shot while campaigning in the presidential primary and was paralyzed from the waist down.
The mining of Haiphong Harbor and other ports was ordered by Nixon. The North Vietnamese move into South Vietnam resulted in heavy air bombardment of the North. Body counts were used as a measure of U.S. progress. The Paris peace talks stalled for months after the U.S. walked out; then resumed; then again reached an impasse. Two strategic arms (SALT) agreements between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. limited each country to two antiballistic missile systems of 100 missiles each.
The trial of peace activists, the Harrisburg Seven, ended with a hung jury after federal prosecutors moved to drop all conspiracy charges against the Rev. Philip Berrigan and six others. They were accused of plotting to kidnap Henry Kissinger and blow up underground heating tunnels in Washington, D.C.
Other headlines that year: Terrorists entered the Olympic village in Munich Germany. In the end eleven Israeli coaches and athletes plus a number of the terrorists were dead. The Supreme Court ruled State death penalties unconstitutional as cruel and unusual punishment.
Making a Difference
Yes, it is twenty-five years, and counting. So, should we throw a party or wear mourning clothes to grieve twenty-five more years of rights denied? Some assessment is appropriate.
"What about shelf life?" a Senator was asked. "Is the fact that the Peace Tax Fund bill has been pending for years a liability?" His firm answer was, "No. Some of the most important legislation in history took twenty years or more. Good ideas do eventually win." Indeed. Anti-tobacco groups worked many years before things suddenly began to break. The bill to allow women the right to vote was introduced in 41 different sessions of Congress before it was finally passed in 1920. Slavery is an example of a long-haul struggle to grant what we now take for granted. I look forward to the day when we will be incredulous at the thought of a time when granting status for conscientious objection to military taxes was controversial.
Notable among the changes in past years is a shift in public perception. Dismissed too easily in the beginning as misguided anti-Vietnam war radicals, we are now seen as a respected organization whose just claim for freedom of conscience has been denied.
The 1992 hearing on the Peace Tax Fund bill was a major milestone. It provided a wealth of positive comment and interpretation, helped clarify the legal issues involved, showed the depth of conviction of the Bill's supporters, and enhanced our profile in Congress.
Ecumenical support has grown far beyond the Historic Peace Churches to include mainline bodies, and, more recently, groups such as the National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Legal Society. I can now call up a broad delegation of persons for important congressional visits and for the visit to the White House. This spectrum of pacifist and non-pacifist, political left and right, demonstrates the depth of conviction of the Bill's supporters far better than words. In fact that is what got us into the White House and what prompted an invitation to return.
The international spin-offs, too, are notable. Since 1986 we have participated in international conferences in Germany, The Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Belgium and England. A new organization, Conscience & Peace Tax International, was formed by this body. It has already been granted lobbying status in some European parliaments and is seeking that status in the United Nations. This international exchange has been a rich learning experience for us. Our contribution is also appreciated. The first German Peace Tax Fund bill was a direct translation from the U.S. bill. Our materials have been translated into a number of languages and are used to persuade members of other parliaments. The voice of conscientious objection to military taxes is heard literally around the world.
Changing with the Times
The Peace Tax Fund bill was born in the midst of a war opposed by more than half the population. There was immense despair, but enough hope to propel an energetic peace movement. Now peace is an issue which is almost invisible. Openings for members on the once powerful Foreign Affairs committees go begging. Twenty-five years ago, Congress was composed largely of the liberal side of the Democratic party. The momentum now is controlled by the conservative side of Republican party.
In the same twenty-five years other groups have flourished and succumbed. I believe we have endured because we adjusted. We couched our arguments to touch others' sense of morality in the context of the times. Our initial peace argument has been augmented with cogent arguments based on the First Amendment. Conscience against killing fellow humans does not change with the times, though expressions of conscience may. Our message is all the more clear, we are told, because we have persisted over the long term. Expressions of our deepest convictions will get attention, no matter what the times.
Tax season is the time of year when the public has the highest sensitivity to tax issues. It is also the time of year when the peace tax/war tax movement is most visible. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee collected information on the tax season actions of 58 groups this year, an increase over the last several years. Below are a sampling of clever activities that tie in with the work of the Campaign that you may want to duplicate.
Reaffirm Your Position
Dan Lundquist of the Minnesota Military Tax Resisters group has helped to recirculate a 1983 joint statement by the Minneapolis and Twin Cities Quaker (Friends) meetings regarding war tax resistance. The statement calls on Friends to practice "some form of war tax resistance" such as income tax resistance, supporting resisters, reduced tax liability through charitable donations or simple living, lobbying for the Peace Tax Fund bill, and/or paying under protest. Currently three of the Friends meetings in the area are distributing the statement to discuss and possibly reaffirm it. For more information, contact Dan Lundquist, 3215 Columbus Ave. S., Minneapolis, MN, 55407-2030. (612)822-9714. E-mail: dan_lundquist @compuserve.com.
Outreach to Ministers
Susannah Reid of Spencer, WV, sent a packet of war tax literature to the local church ministers with a letter that said, in part, "Would you be willing to look over the enclosed literature, share it with your parishioners, and post it on your church's bulletin board?" She followed the mailing with a second containing a copy of her letter to the editor published by the local paper. While she did not hear from any ministers, her goal was to expose and educate them about conscientious objection to military taxes. She plans to repeat this next year and hopes it will lead to action. For more information contact Susannah Ridge, 913 Egypt Ridge Road, Spencer, WV 25276.
Hold an Event
At the invitation of local Congressional District Contact Elise Harvey, honorary chair David Bassett was invited to Lansing, MI to speak about conscientious objection to paying war taxes. Elise also invited Rep. Debbie Stabenow (D) to attend, which she did. When David did a reading from The Diary of Anne Frank, Rep. Debbie Stabenow shared that she played the part of Anne Frank in a high school production of the book. Elise Harvey's recipe for success: make a lot of phone calls, be persistent. Elise can be reached at 1641 Mt. Vernon Avenue, East Lansing, MI 48823. (517)337-1594.
Hold a Bake Sale
The Iowa Peace Network and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) decided to highlight the impending budget cuts in the Des Moines public school system with the theme, "It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need and the air force has to hold a bake sale to buy a bomber." They held a bake sale for the schools and got coverage from two TV stations. The $321.25 raised was presented to the school board at their televised meeting on the evening of the 15th. Organizers said the bake sale was fun but required work. The event also built a bridge to a local union and teachers, relationships they hope to build on next year. For more information contact Deborah Fisch at Iowa Peace Network, 4211 Grand Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50312. (515) 255-7114. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
An Advertising Campaign
The St. Louis Covenant Community of War Tax Resisters, along with the American Friends Service Committee and WILPF placed bar graph ads on 28 MetroLink (public transport) cars, showing the disparity between what the U.S. government spends on the military vs. mass transit and nine other categories of federal spending. A $500 grant paid for the production of the ads and individuals donated $25 a sign. Organizers said the ads got new people involved and generated a good response. For more information contact Bill Ramsey at 314-721-2977 or e-mail: email@example.com. Seed money is available for projects by Peace Tax Fund activists. Contact the national office for more information.
It has been twenty-five years since the Peace Tax Fund bill was first introduced. When I think back at twenty-five years words like dedication, hard work, hope come to mind. Indeed, our history adds a special richness to our work.
At the spring meeting, the board decided to use this twenty-fifth year as a time to reflect on our vision for the future as well as journey in the past. We are planning to mark the year in a number of ways. I hope you can participate.
On Thursday evening, October 23, 1977, we are planning an anniversary gathering in Washington, DC. There will be speakers, storytelling and good food. We seek your participation, first by your attendance at this special event, if possible.
If you are unable to attend, send a statement, a story, a sentiment, a poem, or a photo. Describe your participation in the Campaign and your hopes and encouragement for the future of our work. We are assembling a commemorative booklet and want to include your thoughts. Please limit your message to one side of one page and send by September 1.
The board is planning to spend an extra day at the spring meeting (May 8-9, 1998) for short term goal setting and strategic planning. We will be seeking your input on this process. Look for more information from us in the near future.
Finally, have you noticed our new look? A very gifted graphic artist has volunteered many hours over the past year designing a new org anizational image for us. It is a wonderful gift. We have decided to unveil it now as a way of expressing the importance of this year for the Campaign.
Without you and your support there would be no Campaign, there would be no Peace Tax Fund bill. I speak on behalf of the board when I say how grateful I am for your support. It has brought us this far in twenty-five years and I believe it will also see us through.