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Issue Date:  November 2, 2007

-- Getty Images/Edward Gooch

A depiction of the Boston Tea Party, a protest in 1773 against British taxation on tea imports.
Refusing Caesar

Tax resistance in America is as old as the Boston Tea Party. Resisters typically resist or refuse payment of a tax because of opposition to the institution collecting it, or to some of that institution’s policies. Often tax resistance comes from pacifists or members of religious groups such as Quakers who choose not to fund government’s support for military activities.

In 1846, the nation’s most famous resister Henry Thoreau ended up in jail for refusing to pay his poll tax. A fervent abolitionist, Thoreau explained, “I cannot for an instant recognize ... as my government [that] which is the slave’s government also.” This experience led him to write a powerful lecture on the “relation of the individual to the state.” The lecture was published as “Civil Disobedience,” an essay that influenced generations of activists, including Mahatma Gandhi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Tax resistance was used by Gandhi in his nonviolent movement against British rule in India.

There are many ways to practice tax resistance. Some refuse to pay all or a portion of taxes due, making an equivalent donation to charity. Others find ways to change their lives and lifestyles so that they owe less tax.

Environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill resisted about $150,000 in federal taxes, donating the money to after-school programs, community gardens and alternatives to incarceration. “I actually take the money that the IRS says goes to them and I give it to the places where our taxes should be going. And in my letter to the IRS I said, ‘I’m not refusing to pay my taxes. I’m actually paying them but I’m paying them where they belong because you refuse to do so.’ ”

-- Rich Heffern

National Catholic Reporter, November 2, 2007

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