For Conscience’ Sake

Make Art Not War,

The leveled gun, the battle-brand,

We may not take;

But Calmly loyal, we can stand

And suffer with our suffering kind

For conscience’ sake

And we may tread the sick-bed floors

Where strong men pine,

And, down the groaning corridors,

Pour freely from our liberal stores

The oil and the Wine.

John Greenleaf Whittier  (Quaker, 1807-1892)

Whittier wrote this poem with the onset of the Civil War. He being a Quaker would not serve with a gun. He did not feel that being a pacifist excluded him from duty to the horrific toll that this war took on his fellow citizens. With this in mind I stand firmly in the belief that Quakers (and other historic peace churches) should not have to pay war taxes to the Federal government. However this does not exclude us from shouldering our share of the burden to help those in need from conflict.

You may have seen the recent article by Sarah Ruden in Salon; Scalia’s major screw-up: How SCOTUS just gave liberals a huge gift,  she makes a compelling argument why, with the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, Quakers (and other historic peace churches) will not have to pay Federal taxes that fund the military.  Her argument goes like this; In 2012 the Supreme Court ruled the Affordable Care Act’s mandate for the purchase of healthcare insurance was essentially a tax to fund the public good of healthcare. Now in 2014 ” the ruling is that Hobby Lobby and other businesses with conservative religious owners do not need to pay for what the Affordable Care Act mandates as full coverage for family planning. The public interest in affordable and accessible healthcare is not compelling enough to override the private belief that contraceptive methods including (but apparently not limited to) the IUD and morning-after pill are murder. Well, I’m a pacifist, and I say that warfare is murder, and I don’t want to pay for it: and in recent decades the public interest in my paying for it hardly looks compelling.”

The Quaker peace testimony dates from 1660 and is well supported by objections to every war that the U.S. has engaged in since it’s inception. So will this argument hold when it comes to paying war taxes (20% of our Federal taxes fund the military)? Even if it does, do we not share the social responsibility that Whittier outlined? Can those dedicated dollars fund a “Peace Tax” or some other non-military intervention?

In the June 2014 issue of The Atlantic, Dahlia Lithwick (Slate’s Supreme Court correspondent) wrote a review of a book by Bruce Allen Murphy; Scalia: A Court of One (Simon & Schuster). In the review she wrote; “The Hobby Lobby case serves as a reminder of a profound shift on the Court over the 24 years since Scalia evoked the specter of the religious objector as ” a law unto himself.” That may have been his nightmare in 1990, but in so many ways it is Scalia’s legacy in 2014. Scalia represents the living embodiment of the besieged religious dissenter, the “Christian as cretin,” in his parlance, the man who believes that the only remaining front in the American war for civil rights is the battle to defend religion.” 

The United States of America, the land of equality. Are some religions more “equal” than others? Is the idea that the individual rights of a corporation, in the Hobby Lobby decision, more important than my rights as a person (oops, I can’t say “person” because SCOTUS says that corporations are “persons”, let’s say human being), Quaker, and conscientious objector to war? Doesn’t the “Citizens United” decision put us on equal footing under the law?

My question is this; what avenues need to be explored to test this argument in our legal system? Can we sometime in the near-future legally pursue our conscientious objection to war through not paying taxes to fund military activity but by paying taxes to fund peace processes?

2 thoughts on “For Conscience’ Sake

  1. avidseeker 07/25/2014 / 1:37 pm

    Wonderful topic, Roger, and very insightful. Is there any indication that Quakers and other pacifists will bring this view to the courts? BTW, I love the poem. I remember learning about John Greenleaf Whittier in school but didn’t know he was a Quaker. Thanks. Ginger

  2. Roger Vincent Jasaitis 07/25/2014 / 4:02 pm

    I have posted this on my Quaker blog. We will see if it gets any action on the topic of legal action. I know that this has been an issue for Friends Counsel on National Legislation (FCNL, a Quaker lobby group in Washington, DC) for many years.

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