Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Workshop 11: Court Cases

Led by Bart Horeman (Netherlands)


Report by Jan Birk (Germany)

Participants: David Basset (USA), Jan Birk (Germany), Dominique Boisvert (Canada), Lieven A. Denys (Belgium), Jan Hellebaut (Belgium), Bart Horeman (Netherlands), Lyle Jenks (USA), Annemie Nilsen (Norway), Rosa Packard (USA), Dirk Panhuis (Belgium), Katharina Rottmayr (Germany), Sepp Rottmayr (Germany), Christa Voigt (Germany), Nicholas Wright (USA).

Cases past and current

In Belgium Jan Hellebaut is having a juridical odyssey: The 1st judge told him he was in the wrong court, the 2nd judge (Court of appeals in Antwerp) looked interested but told him he was one day too late, and so he had lost his case for formal reasons. Now the supreme financial court (Hof van Cassatie) has to decide whether time really had elapsed. If so, the case will go back to an Appeals Court in another town.

In Canada there are few court cases and they are usually brought by individuals. In the 1980s there was one case that went up to the Supreme Court. There is no compilation of the cases. Thomas Berger writes in A Life of Justice that Canadian courts referred to US cases, which were lousy.

One of the most recent Court Cases in Germany was that of Jan Birk in September 2003. He had asked for not having to pay that percentage of his income tax that is spent for the military. This was denied because the use of taxes is the sole decision of Parliament, so his conscience could not possibly have been involved. After a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court in the early 1990s, this is the usual result. One way of keeping the number of court cases low is that the authorities will not answer to your demand in any way unless you are persistent. So this case was about the taxes of 1993.

On the court level the conscientious objectors will usually refer to a financial law that gives the tax authorities the right to reduce taxes or collect none at all. It is common practice to apply this on cases of bankruptcy, which is not covered in the constitution but not to matters of conscience, which is covered.

Nowadays, however, several courts are responsive to an individual conflict of conscience. The legal problem is that both the budget right of Parliament and the freedom of conscience are in the constitution.

Someone who is not in touch with us got through all the German courts and is going to the EU court. Another court case is being prepared by the Rottmayr family and friends.

In Norway there were no court cases.

USA: The Philadelphia Annual Meeting (of the Quakers) had not paid the taxes for several employees and was ordered to pay the taxes plus a 50 % fine. It took the IRS (financial authorities) to court. The judge accepted the argument of the religious freedom act: The Quakers could have been expected to act as they did, so they did not have to pay the 50 % penalty, although they did have to pay the full tax. If they appeal, they risk having to pay the penalty. The Meeting decided to pay the taw to point to the success of not having to pay the fine, but to furthermore support their employees against the IRS.

The IRS never even hears cases that refer to religion, conscience etc. - which is a breach of laws. Daniel Jenkins told the judge: I came for what is behind your back (the flag with In God we trust). He asked the IRS for advice, and was sent to the tax court. He studied old and very old cases in New York State and found some where the military tax was redirected to social spending. The next court will give him the opportunity to appeal to the Supreme Court.

US citizens can't appeal to the UN Human Rights Committee, because the Government hasn't signed the Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Fundamental Considerations

Fundamental Questions

What is there to do?