ONLINE Edition of the Fall 1998 Newsletter
|Organizing for the Peace Tax Fund Pays Dividends|
Republican Moran Becomes a Cosponsor
PTF Display at Conferences
Peace Tax Petition is a Success
Peace Tax Fund Ads Available
How the Presidential Crisis Affects Us
Loving the Hell out of People
Prophetic Crusades of Conscience
Military Budget Bumped Up Again
Peace at the Pentagon?
New Staff at the Campaign
Amidst the heat of this summer, the Peace Tax Fund has witnessed a flurry of activity from our local members. While the mainstream media has been consumed with the scandal in the White House, or with baseball's home run records, local activists across the country have been quietly and effectively making a stand for conscience.
As a grassroots movement, one of the basic truths we depend upon is that there is "strength in numbers." The Peace Tax Fund will have a greater effect in Congress when it is known and supported by a larger part of the population. Thus, the efforts we make are crucial.
In September, Peace Tax Fund activists in Kansas responded to an Action Alert by writing letters asking Representative Jerry Moran (R-KS-1) to cosponsor HR 2660, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill. Rep. Moran, a Republican, had previously given verbal support to the Bill, but had never officially cosponsored it in the House. Within weeks of the Action Alert, Rep. Moran signed on as an official cosponsor. This is a terrific demonstration that grassroots action, combined with advocacy on Capitol Hill, can be effective!
Summer is a popular time for religious groups and peace organizations to hold a national or regional conference. This summer, a tabletop display for the Peace Tax Fund has been exhibited at almost a dozen conferences around the country.
The display presents the basic dilemma faced by people who are opposed to war in any form: they must either pay their taxes and violate their conscience, or refuse their taxes and risk the penalties. The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill is offered as one solution to that dilemma.
If you plan to attend a conference of a religious or peace organization in the upcoming months, and would like to have a display at the conference, call the national office toll-free at (888) 732-2382 [(888) PEACE-TAX]. We can pay the cost of postage and table space.
Three months ago, we began distributing the Peace Tax Petition, which urges members of Congress to support the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill. Since that time, activists have gathered literally hundreds of signatures on these petitions. The response has been encouraging.
The petition is an excellent way to "kill two birds with one stone" (pardon the violent phrase). First, we are showing our members of Congress that their constituents support the right to object to military taxes. Second, by sharing the petition with people who have never heard of the Peace Tax Fund, we are spreading the message of conscience to a wider audience.
The Peace Tax Petition campaign continues. If you would like to receive a copy of the petition to distribute, please contact the national office.
The national office has developed a variety of camera-ready advertisements that promote the Peace Tax Fund. We encourage you to place an ad in your local newspaper, or to persuade a religious/peace organization to put an ad in their regular publication.
Several members have taken us up on this offer. One activist quickly raised $200 from her friends and neighbors, and placed a 6" X 9" advertisement (almost half a page!) in her local newspaper. She commented that she was surprised how easy it was for her to raise the money for the ad.
These ads are having an effect. The national office has already received many requests for information from people who were introduced to the Campaign through an advertisement.
If you are interested in placing an ad for the Peace Tax Fund, contact the national office for a free sample of the camera-ready ads.
We have all seen the headlines and read the stories about the Presidential crisis and impeachment hearings. Whatever our opinion is of President Clinton, Kenneth Starr, or Congress' reaction to the events, we can all agree on one thing:
It is difficult to get movement in Congress on the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill, or anything else, during this time.
With members of Congress consumed by the fate of the President and by the upcoming elections in November, advocates for the Peace Tax Fund are diligently working on two important goals.
First, we continue to seek a prominent Republican Senator to join TomHarkin (D-IA) in cosponsoring the Bill in the Senate. We now have an important ally among the staff in the office of Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), and we hope to have a delegation meet with the Senator himself in the next few months. Representatives of religious groups with major constituencies in Pennsylvania are ready to meet with the Senator.
Dozens of Peace Tax Fund members in Pennsylvania have written to Senator Specter, urging him to meet with us face to face. If we can meet with him in person, we hope to persuade him to cosponsor the Bill as an issue of religious freedom.
Second, we are pursuing the White House and the Treasury Department to convince them to remove their objections to the Bill.
In the past, including the 1992 Senate hearings, the Treasury Department has objected to the Bill on the grounds that it would be an administrative burden for them to implement. However, in 1997 the text of the Bill was simplified, and in early 1998 an influential delegation of Peace Tax Fund supporters met with Treasury officials for the first time to discuss the Bill. In that meeting, Treasury officials promised to review the Bill and reevaluate their position.
Unfortunately, it has now been months since that meeting, and the Treasury Department has not yet given their official response to the Bill. The offices of Rep. John Lewis, a leading cosponsor of the Bill in the House, and Sen. Tom Harkin, the lead cosponsor in the Senate, have tried many times without success to elicit a response from Treasury.
Walking With the Wind by Rep. John Lewis (Simon & Schuster, 1998) is a riveting book; a must read. It recounts the author's part in the nonviolent civil rights struggle that rocked this nation and forced it to face its conscience. The son of poor Alabama sharecroppers, who as a child preached to the chickens, Lewis now dines with heads of state and is a member of the U.S. Congress.
You will be awed and grateful that the main sponsor of our Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill in the U.S. House of Representatives is this manner of person. >From the freedom rides of 1961, during which Lewis was repeatedly brutalized and imprisoned, to the civil rights march on "bloody Sunday" in Selma, Alabama, where he suffered a fractured skull during an attack by state troopers, he maintained a quiet dignity with intellect, faith, courage and perseverance. I warn you, this story will force you to take a measure of yourself, and in my case at least, to realize there is still much growing up to do.
Here are some of the book's lessons:
1) "Keep your eyes on the prize," which John Lewis describes as a "more perfect union," and "a beloved community."
2) It is essential to endure pain and suffering. The tears, and the lives lost, make a redemptive difference in society.
3) Suffering is not enough. As Lewis says, "It can be nothing more than a sad and sorry thing without the presence on the part of the sufferer of a graceful heart, a heart that holds no malice toward the inflictors of his or her suffering."
4) Training is important, as indicated in the words of nonviolence instructor James Lawson. Lawson had filed for conscientious objector status during the Korean War rather than register for the draft, and he spent 14 months in jail for his refusal to serve.
In training sessions, Lawson was tough. "When you can truly understand and feel even as a person is cursing you to your face, even as he is spitting on you, or pushing a lit cigarette into your neck, or beating you with a truncheon ... even in the midst of those critical and often physically painful moments, that your attacker is as much a victim as you are, that he is the victim of the forces that have shaped his anger and fury, then you are well on your way to a nonviolent life."
"It is not enough simply to endure a beating," said Lawson. "It is not enough to resist the urge to strike back. That urge can't be there. You have to have no desire to hit back. You have to love that person that's hitting you. You're going to love him."
Love is a Way of Life
This love is not simply a technique or strategy to be pulled out when needed. This is a way of life that permeates each moment from the monumental to the mundane. "You carry this love, this peace, this capacity for compassion, inside yourself every waking minute of the day. It shapes your resp onse to a curt cashier or a driver cutting you off in traffic." Ouch.
This is a more all-encompassing love than loving something that's lovely to you. This is, says Lewis, "a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate.... It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence."
"Love the hell out of them," Lewis remembers Martin Luther King saying, and adds, "King meant that literally. If there is hell in someone, if there is meanness and anger and hatred in him, we've got to love it out."
John T. Noonan has been a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit since 1986. A Catholic, raised in Boston, he gives in his first chapter an autobiographical account of his own intellectual and theological development, since he is "convinced that no person, man or woman, historian or law professor or constitutional commentator or judge, is neutral in this matter."
Noonan discovered in his time of research and writing that his own Commonwealth of Massachusetts had killed Quakers, and that Baptists suffered beatings for exercising their religion - something not emphasized in his Massachusetts schooling.
His book is an erudite and well-written study of the first amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." He examines its history, the development of its interpretation in the courts, and its relationship with our culture as well as its influence on other cultures.
The Supreme Court's History with Religious Freedom
Noonan sees freedom of religion as an American innovation previously unknown to any nation, as central to the American experience, and as our moral contribution to the world. He describes its legal history as inconsistent - saying that although the Supreme Court has in general moved in the direction of freedom, there is no guarantee that the trend will continue.
He notes that "as for religion, the Court's early precedents declined to extend freedom to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and ratified the confiscation of that church's property. Since 1940 the Court has known major regressions, such as the first Flag Salute Case, the Sacramental Peyote Case and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) Case.
No certainty exists that the Court will do the right thing. However, "with the aid of the other branches of government, the criticism of the legal profession and the voices of the electorate, the direction toward freedom has been kept." His book is part of that effort, and so must ours be as voices of the electorate.
Military Taxes as a "National Religion"
The chapter "Durkheim's Dilemma" is directly related to our interest in conscientious objection to paying taxes for war. Noonan examines the tension between seeing religion as worship of the transcendent, and seeing religion as society's creation. He thinks both are true. He points out that the courts have held three aspects of our society sacred - as an expression of our "national religion" - taxation, military power and the judiciary. The courts have consistently held these to be superior to the claims of conscience. He notes that exceptions have been seen by the courts not as a matter of right, but as a matter of legislative grace.
He then balances this observation with a look at prophetic crusades of conscience, such as the abolitionists and the civil rights movement. These movements did indeed change the Court's position in response to a change in public morality. Thus, we can infer that the Court's interpretation of religious freedom, and its recognition of conscientious objection to military taxes, can ultimately be influenced by people like us.
Interestingly, Noonan omits from his list of successful prophetic crusades the women's rights movement of the last two centuries, and he does not consider that most adherents in these successful movements also espoused nonviolence, and were opposed to war. And that some of these campaigns continue.
For those of us concerned with the recognition of the right of conscientious objection to the payment of military taxes, Noonan's analysis of the Supreme Court's position makes vivid both the necessity of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund and the necessity of a prophetic crusade on the immorality of war, if we are to pass such legislation and validate the first amendment.
In September, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff met with President Clinton behind closed doors to demand an extra $10 to $15 billion each year for the military. They claimed that they needed this 5% increase over the current $271 billion budget because of "eroding military readiness."
The "eroding readiness" claim seems a bit suspect, since as recently as February the Joint Chiefs had testified before Congress that their forces were "fundamentally healthy." However, with President Clinton jealously guarding his public image in light of the pending impeachment hearings, he could not take a chance by standing up to the military. Thus, he fully agreed with the spending increases.
Days after the successful meeting with the President, the Joint Chiefs met with Congress and bumped up their request to $17.5 billion per year. While Congress took the opportunity to scold the chiefs for apparently misleading them earlier in the year, they were more than happy to approve the large increases. They approved a 1999 budget increasing military spending by $9 billion.
Now that they were on a roll, the military officials also claimed that they would need another $40 billion over the next five years to bring military salaries and pensions in line with civilian rates.
At times like this, we should remember that the U.S. military budget is already 5 times larger than any other country's in the world. It is a poignant reminder of the need for an alternative to paying for war: the Peace Tax Fund.
Hundreds of people came together on October 18-19 in Washington, DC, to celebrate alternatives to community violence and military violence. Members of the Peace Tax Fund joined other activists in participating in the events.
The "Peace Concert" featured local music groups, as well as speakers on nonviolent action and national policy. The event was held in conjunction with the Day Without the Pentagon, sponsored by the War Resisters League.
The day after the concert, activists marched to the Pentagon to protest the $1.7 billion that the U.S. government spends each day on past, present, and future military activities. The march and the protest highlighted the positive things which we could be doing with these massive funds, such as educating our children, providing health care for everyone, protecting our environment, and making our communities safe and prosperous.
We are happy to announce that Rachel Avery Harrison has joined the national office as the new Outreach and Development Assistant. Rachel has taken a leave of absence from Sarah Lawrence College (Bronxville, NY) to pursue fieldwork, having completed her sophomore year. At Sarah Lawrence, she studied dance, psychology, the sociology of crime and deviance, and literature.
Rachel has been a member of Little Falls Monthly Meeting of Friends since her childhood in Bel Air, Maryland. During her internship with us, she hopes to recruit colleges nationwide to create Peace Tax Fund "chapters," or enlist activists within existing campus groups. She will be managing and expanding the Congressional District Contact program, among other work. You can expect to hear her friendly voice when you call the Campaign.