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Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation

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Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation
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According to the National Priorities Project , about 25% of our tax dollars go to the Pentagon to finance the men, women, and weaponry that enables the United States military to fight the current wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Somalia, Yemen, and elsewhere. An additional 13.2% goes to pay the national debt much of which was borrowed to pay for war.[1]

Pacifism and "Indirect Complicity"

To many in the peace community, particularly, all pacifists, both the active combatant and the person not on the battlefield, both military and civilian, who supports and finances the conflict by their tax dollars, must bear moral responsibility for, are indirectly complicit, and may be psychologically, emotionally, and morally injured by the killing or injuring of another human being in war. This extension of the scope of moral culpability beyond the members of the military, beyond the active combatant, is not new. Quaker John Fuller made a similar observation almost two centuries ago.

"What difference is there, in principle, between killing a fellow man in war and paying another man to kill him? And, again, do not the Friends pay one man to kill another when they pay their share of the general tax towards the support of the government and the means of national defense?" [2]

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I think it accurate to say that all pacifists have a firm, fixed, and sincere religious and moral objection against both directly and indirectly fighting in and supporting war or the bearing of arms in any form. Consequently, given this nation's long history of respect for religious freedom and the Supreme Court's recognition of the right to conscientious objection, [3] the Trump Administration's current effort to effect meaningful tax reform offers a timely and judicious opportunity to take the next logical and morally required step of recognizing conscientious objection not only to military service (direct participation in war), but also to what is equally as morally abhorrent to pacifists, the paying of taxes that support war and the bearing of arms in any form (indirect participation/the financing of war). As Conscientious Objectors (CO's) are granted relief from military and combat service, killing in war, so should CO's be allowed a nonviolent and nonmilitary alternative to the use of their tax dollars for war and the taking of life.

The Hobby Lobby Precedent

Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation (COMT) is not new and relief from having to pay military taxes has been sought by pacifists and others concerned with issues of peace, religious freedom, and conscience for many years. In fact, in the late 1990's, Quaker tax resisters filed three court cases using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 and the First Amendment guarantee to freedom of religion to seek relief from penalties imposed upon tax resisters and to make the case for the legalization of Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation. Sadly, these cases were dismissed both by the lower Courts and by the Second and Third Circuit Court.

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Though the Supreme Court has yet to consider the merits of Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation specifically, the recent decisions in what has become known as the "Hobby Lobby Case," provide a clear legal precedent. Judge Roger Wollman of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals handed down the first federal decision that the court must defer to the employers'

". . . sincere religious belief that their participation in the accommodation process (the Contraceptive Mandate of the Affordable Care Act) makes them morally and spiritually complicit in providing abortifacient coverage . . ."

Additionally, in this decision, the Court recognized, as have pacifists, the profound immorality of indirect complicity, and the moral culpability of a person who makes it possible for others to kill by their support, financial or otherwise. Judge Wollman continues,

"It is not our role to second-guess honest assessment of a difficult and important question of religion and moral philosophy, namely, the circumstances under which it is wrong for a person to perform an act that is innocent in itself but that has the effect of enabling or facilitating the commission of an immoral act by another."

In Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores (6/2014) the Supreme Court concurred with Judge Wollman's decision. In a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations -- regarded as persons since the controversial "Citizens United" decision of 2010 -- cannot be required to engage in an activity which violates the corporation owners' strongly held religious beliefs/moral convictions, again the Affordable Care Acts' provision that employers "provide and facilitate four potentially life-terminating drugs and devices in their health insurance plan" -- the Contraceptive Mandate.

In an opinion supporting the Hobby Lobby decision, Associate Judge Samuel Alito, referencing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), writes;

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"The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in a manner required by their religious beliefs . . . Our responsibility is to enforce the RFRA as written, and under the standard that RFRA prescribes, the HHS contraceptive mandate is unlawful.

Certainly the scope of the Hobby Lobby decision that owners of corporations not be required to act in violation of their strongly held religious beliefs/moral convictions must have universal application, i.e., must apply as well to all persons not only those who own corporations. Consequently, the Supreme Court has, by once again asserting and now clarifying the scope of the Constitutional importance of respecting religious and moral convictions, provided guidance and a clear legal precedent for Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation. Justice Kennedy's concurrence elaborates on the importance of this decision. He writes:

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Camillo "Mac" Bica, Ph.D., is a professor of philosophy at the School of Visual Arts in New York City, a long-time activist for peace and justice, a member of the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, and the coordinator of the Long Island Chapter of Veterans for Peace. His books include "Beyond PTSD: The Moral (more...)
 

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