THE PEACE AND JUSTICE FILES – RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, RELIGIOUS FAIRNESS

The folks at Hobby Lobby (which apparently is an evangelical ministry disguised as a craft store) took out a full-page ad in the papers recently, touting the notion that the United States was from the outset intended to be a “Christian nation” (whatever that is supposed to mean – but that’s another column). I guess they were reveling in the heady feeling of victory, following the Supreme Court decision that recognized their right to apply their religious beliefs to the benefit package that they offered their employees. Many liberals and progressives were upset by the decision, but not me.

It was just the opening I’ve been waiting for.

You’re probably aware that members of the Religious Society of Friends (“Quakers”) like myself are pacifists, and oppose military spending. You might not know that some Quakers (and members of other “peace churches,” like the Mennonites and Brethren) take this matter so seriously that to avoid paying for war they withhold some or all of their Federal taxes – with all the consequences that you might expect, from garnishment of wages to actual imprisonment. It’s called “war tax resistance,” and I wrote about it in this space some years ago. (To learn more about war tax resistance, see http://www.nwtrcc.org, or http://www.warresisters.org/wtr_menu.html.)

American law has long recognized the right of citizens to refuse to participate directly in war, when that refusal is based in religious or moral belief (you might remember the phrase “conscientious objectors”). I have maintained that we should also be able to direct our tax dollars away from war, or from any government activity, that violates such beliefs. This is a principle that transcends denomination, though – that is to say, it’s not just for us peaceniks. Conservatives should have a similar right – and it is precisely that right that the Supremes have brought to the fore in the Hobby Lobby case.

So what I want is simple enough. All taxpayers should be able, by means of a simple checkbox on the tax form, to tell the government where not to spend our tax contributions. For me, that means defense; for a conservative Catholic, that might mean family planning. I don’t know how far people might go – would an orthodox Jew or Muslim object to pork subsidies? Would vegetarians prefer to not support the USDA meat inspection program? – but it’s not our place to judge the sincerely held beliefs of others. Religious freedom, right?

Please note a couple of things. My proposal would not affect actual expenditures at all. (The small-government people don’t like this part.) The same amount of money would be spent as Congress appropriated; the money would just be drawn from different sources. It’s a mere matter of bookkeeping, one well within the capabilities of current systems. Indeed, we do something similar already with the Presidential Campaign Fund check-off.

It would also not affect an individual’s overall tax liability, and it says nothing about the government’s right to levy and collect taxes. (This is the point in the argument where the anti-tax activists turn away.)

Finally, this right would not be a trivial thing to claim. Conscientious objectors to military service had to go through a fairly rigorous process of documenting their beliefs, and a similar process should apply here as well.

I doubt that legislation to implement such a proposal would be passed, so I’m thinking a lawsuit would be the way to proceed. A class action against the Department of the Treasury and the IRS, to be exact.

So, if you’re a lawyer with experience in tax law and/or religious freedom issues, or if you know someone who is, or if you’d like to be part of the class, or if you have any suggestions or reactions to my idea, drop me a line, would you please? My email is smendler@yahoo.com, or you can comment below…

 

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