Chapter 24 » 24.19

Personal witness

Conscientious objection to taxation for military purposes

In March 1982 Meeting for Sufferings considered the request by some London Yearly Meeting employees that the part of their income tax attributable to military purposes should be diverted to non-military uses. Tax was withheld from October 1982 until, in June 1985, the Appeal Court ruled that the action was unlawful. Meeting for Sufferings then decided to pay the tax withheld since the law had been tested as far as possible. At the same time it made a submission to the European Commission of Human Rights on the grounds of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; in July 1986 the Commission ruled the case inadmissible. Yearly Meeting returned to the matter in 1987 (see 29.10). The following letter to the Inland Revenue in 1991 records some of the dilemmas of Meeting for Sufferings in seeking to further the concern:

The Religious Society of Friends has, since its beginnings in the seventeenth century, borne witness against war and armed conflict as contrary to the spirit and teachings of Christ. We have sought to build institutions and relationships which make for peace and to resist military activity. The horrific nature of modern armaments makes our witness particularly urgent. The Gulf War involved the substantial use of expensive modern weapons and technology, demonstrating that today it is the conscription of our money rather than our bodies which makes war possible.

For many years members of the Religious Society of Friends have been exercised about how we might be true to our historic peace testimony while still obeying the laws of our country. You will know that we have appealed through the courts and ultimately to the European Commission of Human Rights for recognition of the right of conscientious objection to paying taxes for military purposes…

Since losing the appeal we have paid in full the income tax collected from our employees. In recent months we have considered whether we can continue to do this, but after very careful consideration have decided that for the time being we must do so. The acceptance of the rule of law is part of our witness, … for a just and peaceful world cannot come about without this. However we do wish to make it clear that we object to the way in which the PAYE system involves us in a process of collecting money, used in part to pay for military activity and war preparations, which takes away from the individual taxpayer the right to express their own conscientious objection. This involvement is incompatible with our work for peace.

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