When Ruth Benn of Brooklyn filed her federal income taxes this
week, she left out an important element: the check.
"In good conscience I cannot pay this money to the US
government," Ms. Benn wrote in a letter to the IRS that accompanied
a completed, but unpaid, 1040 form. "I do not want my tax dollars to
be used for killing and war."
Benn joins an estimated 10,000 Americans refusing to pay their
federal taxes this year in protest of US military power. Many of
these conscientious objectors - some driven by personal politics,
some by religious beliefs - plan to donate their tax obligation to
The Internal Revenue Service does not keep a count of tax
resisters, but they're no doubt a tiny fraction of the 120 million
people expected to file to Uncle Sam. Though her evidence is
anecdotal, Benn sees their ranks growing, noting that three years
into the Iraq war her tax-resister clearinghouse has more than
doubled its online readership, from 200 hits a day to about 500.
Of course, not paying taxes is against the law. Federal courts
have rejected protesters' right to withhold taxes, regardless of the
motive, says IRS spokesman Robert Marvin. Although few tax resisters
ever face charges, the IRS has cracked down on some offenders.
Last July, a US District judge sentenced three members of the
Restored Israel of Yahweh church, which preaches against war taxes,
to six months in prison for tax evasion and openly allowing
employees of their New Jersey construction company to avoid their
"On rare occasions, if a person has owed a lot of money over a
lot of time, the IRS may go after them," says attorney Peter
Goldberger, who is handling the appeal for two of the Restored
Israel of Yahweh worshipers. "But criminal prosecution is rare to
the point that it is almost not heard of."
In general, the IRS treats tax resisters as it does millions of
other Americans who are behind on their taxes, Mr. Goldberger says.
Fines and interest accumulate, but legal action is usually reserved
for fraudulent or egregious cases.
Jim Allen, a retired Army social worker now teaching at St. Louis
University, knows he is breaking the law by withholding some of his
income taxes. But last year he and his wife, Jan, became fed up with
the billions of dollars spent to fund the war in Iraq and decided to
take a moral stand.
"I am not opposed to paying taxes, but I am when such a large
percent is going to pay for war," says Mr. Allen, who served in the
Army for 20 years.
The White House says 19 cents of every tax dollar goes to
military spending. …