Legal and Legislative Exemptions from War Tax Withholding (General Conference Mennonite Church, 1980)

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Legal and Legislative Exemptions from War Tax Withholding (GCMC, 1980)

Legal and Legislative Exemptions from War Tax Withholding

At the Mid-Triennium Sessions of the General Conference Mennonite Church, held February 9-11, 1979, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, the following resolution was passed:

"We request the General Board of our conference to engage in a serious and vigorous search to use all legal, legislative, and administrative avenues for achieving a conscientious objector exemption from the legal requirement that the conference withhold income taxes from the wages of its employees. If no relief can be found within a three-year period the General Board shall bring the question back to the Conference."

Following this resolution, the General Board appointed a five-member Task Force, which later was joined by representatives of the Mennonite Church, Church of the Brethren, and Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

While the Task Force is vigorously pursuing its assignment to identify and research "legal, legislative, and administrative avenues," carrying these tasks through to successful completion requires widespread support and initiative throughout the General Conference.

I. LEGISLATIVE EXEMPTION. It is apparent that previous General Conference resolutions in 1974 and 1977 on the World Peace Tax Fund have not produced sustained work among many congregations to ensure that their congressional Representatives and Senators have endorsed the bill. To date, among congressional districts in which Mennonites reside in significant numbers, only three U.S. Representatives have become supporters. The World Peace Tax Fund is currently sponsored by only 31 of 435 Representatives. At least 100 sponsors are required for the bill to receive serious attention.

The Historic Peace Church Task Force on Taxes has set the summer of 1983 as a target date by which to obtain these 100 congressional sponsors. To this end, major educational and promotional efforts are being planned in all of the participating historic peace churches.

II. LEGAL EXEMPTION. Research undertaken in 1975, following an American Friends Service Committee test case, and subsequent legal opinions sought by the Task Force on Taxes, have pointed to the possibility of a solution through judicial action. A suit requesting the court to exempt the historic peace churches from withholding their employees' income taxes against their conscience is indicated. Such an action could be a joint effort by the General Conference and other historic peace churches.

This action might cost $75,000 to $130,000, and would likely require several years to reach final decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

With these considerations, the Task Force on Taxes recommends sustained effort on both the World Peace Tax Fund and a judicial action during the 1980-1983 triennium.

Therefore, BE IT RESOLVED:

  1. That each General Conference congregation study the World Peace Tax Fund in depth and appoint a committee of three persons as congregational educators/organizers to promote passage of the bill by the U.S. Congress;
  2. That the Task Force on Taxes provide study and action materials to facilitate the work of congregations in seeking sponsorship of the World Peace Tax Fund bill by their U.S. Representative and U.S. Senators;
  3. That the General Board be empowered to initiate a judicial action seeking exemption for the General Conference Mennonite Church from withholding taxes from the income of its employees. This judicial action will be based on the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects church from laws causing it to violate the conscientious objection of its employees to contributing to war;
  4. That all General Conference congregations support the judicial action efforts of the Task Force on Taxes through special offerings, budget allocations, or some other means compatible with their financial structure. U.S. congregations are urged to support efforts for the passage of the World Peace Tax Fund.

Submitted by: Heinz Janzen, Convenor, Historic Peace Church Task Force on Taxes

Delton Franz, Member

Duane Heffelbower, Member

Ernie Regehr, Member

Robert Hull, Secretary

Context of the Resolution

This resolution came as part of a series of General Conference Mennonite Church discussions on war tax issues. In 1971 the Commission on Home Ministries had begun to make available study material for congregations on war tax resistance. It also published a periodical, God and Caesar, to stimulate discussion on the issue. In 1971 the General Conference delegates agreed "to stand by those who geel called to resist the payment of that portion of taxes being used for military purposes." In 1974 they further agreed "that the General Conference offices seriously work at the possibility of providing each employee with the option of following his/her conscience in the payment of war taxes." This was further focused in 1975 by Cornelia Lehn, an employee of the conference, who asked that the conference allow her to resist paying war taxes by not withholding income taxes from her salary. In 1977 the delegates committed the Conference to further "serious study of civil disobedience and war tax resistance."

Following the passage of this resolution the Conference learned from attorney William Ball "that the general climate in the United States, the attitude of the [U.S.] Supreme Court as evidenced by ... recent decisions dealing with religious conviction or conscience and taxes were such that the likelihood the General Conference accomplishing it objectives through judicial action was virtually nil." This led to a subsequent resolution in 1983 on A Resolution on Faithful Action Toward Tax Withholding.

The Task Force included one Canadian, Ernie Regehr, the Researcher for Project Ploughshares, with offices in Waterloo, Ontario.


General Conference Mennonite Church. Minutes, General Conference Mennonite Church forty-first session, July 28-August 3, 1977. Newton, Kan. : The Conference, 1977: 14-15.

God and Caesar, 20 vols. (1975-1994) Periodical published by the Commission on Home Ministries, General Conference Mennonite Church.

"Withholding taxes: Topic for Midtriennium." The Mennonite 92 (September 6, 1977): 501.

Reimer, Vic. "The Midtriennium: in Which Directions will the Spirit Move us Next?" The Mennonite 94 (February 27, 1979): 138-141.

Wiebe, Bernie. "The Bible Speaks to our Search." The Mennonite 94 (February 27, 1979): 141.

Minutes 1980 : General Conference Mennonite Church, forty-second session, July 12-19, 1980. Newton, Kan. : General Conference Mennonite Church, 1980: 4, 10.

Cornies, Larry. "Non-withholding Tax Action Begins, Seven Make Request," The Mennonite 98 (October 11, 1983)