Mary Loehr works out of a small office in Ithaca, N.Y., where she coordinates a national campaign to build support for those who choose to withhold federal income taxes in protest against war.
“We have issued an ‘Appeal to Conscience’ in the form of a petition in which those who sign say it is fully justifiable on moral and ethical grounds for individuals to refuse to pay that portion of their income tax that goes for wars past and present,” Loehr told the World. “Signers also agree to declare their willingness to lend support to those persons of conscience who choose to take this step.”
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton of Detroit said his decision to join in sponsoring the Appeal stemmed from his conviction that the war in Iraq is immoral. “It’s particularly immoral,” he said. “It’s based on lies – that there is a connection between Iraq and Al Qaeda, that Iraq has nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction. There’s no proof of any of that.”
When asked what anti-war activists should do now, Gumbleton said, “Keep protesting. Support the troops by bringing them home. And above all, bring the facts to people.” In addition to Gumbleton, initiators of the Appeal include Joan Baez, Fr. Daniel Berrigan and Daniel Ellsberg.
Loehr, who oversees the work of the War Tax Resisters Coordinating Committee, has refused to pay what she calls “the war tax” for the last 20 years. “It was no great sacrifice,” she said. “In most of those years I worked in low-paying jobs where I didn’t earn enough to have to pay federal income tax. When I did have taxable income, I gave half what I owed to groups working for peace and social justice.” Loerh estimates there are as many as 8,000 people who can be called war tax resisters
The Appeal was inspired by a similar declaration circulated during the Vietnam War in support of young men who refused to serve in the military. Four of the initiators, including then Yale University chaplain Rev. William Sloane Coffin and famed baby doctor Benjamin Spock, were indicted for “conspiracy” to violate the draft laws by President Johnson’s Justice Department. Coffin and Mary Morgan, the widow of Dr. Spock, are signatories to the current Appeal to Conscience.
The Appeal’s authors point to the “long and honorable tradition” of refusing to pay war taxes and cite the example of Henry David Thoreau, the U. S. writer and philosopher jailed for refusing to pay a federal tax to finance the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. Thoreau and others believed that war to be an unwarranted act of aggression on the part of the U.S.
In his famous essay, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau wrote: “If a thousand [people] were not to pay their tax bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them and enable the state to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”
More than a century later, following the million-person rally for nuclear disarmament in New York City’s Central Park on June 12, 1982, General Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State under President Ronald Reagan, is alleged to have remarked, “Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay the taxes.”
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