Peace Tax Bills in Seven Countries

by Erik Th. Hummels, 1997

2. The United States of America

In the United States similar bills have been introduced in the US Congress every time since 1972[1] in the House of Representatives and since 1977 in the Senate (introduced by senator Hatfield).[2]

I will compare the bill d.d. April 17 1991 H.R. 1870 with the Dutch bill.

With this bill the International Revenue Code of 1986 has to be changed to provide that a taxpayer conscientiously opposed to participation in war may elect to have such taxpayer's income, estate or gift payments spent for nonmilitary purposes.

The bill provides for the establishment of a United States Peace Tax Fund.

In section 2 of the proposal is mentioned:

  1. Findings. The Congress finds that for a significant minority of Americans sincere conscientious objection to participation in war in any form means that such Americans cannot in conscience pay the portion of their taxes that would support military expenditures.
  2. Policy. It is the policy of Congress:
    1. to allow conscientious objectors to pay their full tax liability without violating their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs;
    2. to reduce the present administrative and judicial burden created by conscientious objectors who violate tax laws rather than violate their consciences;
    3. to recognize conscientious objector status with regard to the payment of taxes for military purposes and
    4. to provide a mechanism for congressional appropriations of such funds for nonmilitary purposes.

In section 3 US Peace Tax Fund is established. To that Fund the amounts are transferred which the individual taxpayers have designated for that. The amounts shall be transferred at least monthly from the general fund of the Treasury to the Fund on the bases of estimates. Proper adjustments shall be made in the amount subsequently transferred to the extent that prior estimates were in excess or less than the amount required to be transferred.

In section 4 is regulated that each individual taxpayer who by reason of religion training and belief is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form and who already is recognised as conscientious objector according to the military service acts or has certified in a statement in a questionnaire return that he or she is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form within the meaning of the aforesaid military service acts.

Any taxpayer who makes a designation shall attach the questionnaire return receipt to the return of tax. The Secretary of the Treasury may require him or her to provide such additional information as may be necessary to verify his or her status as an eligible individual.

The Secretary of the Treasury can decide that somebody is not an eligible individual and is not entitled to make such a designation, upon written notice to the taxpayer stating the reasons for denial. The taxpayer may challenge the Secretary's ruling by taking proceedings in the relevant courts.

The designation may be made with respect to any taxable year.

  1. at the time of filing the return of the tax
  2. at any other time specified in regulations prescribed by the Secretary.

In the case of an eligible individual filing a joint return, upon the consent of such individual's spouse, the joint income taxpayment may be designated. In other words it is not necessary that the spouse has conscientious objections himself or herself, he or she has only to give permission for the designation.

Each publication of general instructions accompanying an income tax return shall include an explanation of the purpose of the United States Peace Tax Fund and the criteria for determining whether an individual meets the requirements to be recognised as a conscientious objector and an explanation of the process for making the designation.

Every taxpayer who makes a designation for any taxable year shall make a questionnaire return during such year for the purpose of determining whether the taxpayer is an eligible individual. In the aforesaid return the taxpayer has to certify his or her beliefs about participation in war, the source or genesis of such beliefs and how the beliefs affect the taxpayer's life.

Any civil or criminal penalty imposed on an individual for tax refusal shall be vacated and set aside, if the person upon whom the penalty was imposed

  1. pays the tax due with interest, and
  2. establish to the satisfaction of the Secretary of the Treasury that the failure or refusal to pay was based upon conscientious objection to participation in war in any form.

A similar provision is made with respect to the gift tax and the estate tax. With regard to the estate tax the request to recognition of conscientious objections may be done by the executor or administrator of the estate under written authority of the decedent.

In section 7 is prescribed that the Comptroller General as soon after the close of each fiscal year shall determine and certify to the Congress and to the President the percentage of actual appropriations made for a military purpose with respect to such fiscal year.

Each year a certain portion of the money in the US Peace Tax Fund will be appropriated to the United States Peace Tax Fund Board of Trustees for obligation and expenditure in accordance with the provisions of the US Peace Tax Fund Act.

The portion considered is equal to an amount which is

  1. the product of
    1. all funds transferred to the Fund in each fiscal year, times
    2. the aforesaid percentage determined for such fiscal year.

The surplus, without of course all resources in the Fund previously authorised to be appropriated to the Board of Trustees but not yet appropriated, will flow to the General Fund of the Treasury of the United States on the following condition: No part of the funds transferred to the general fund shall be appropriated for any expenditure, or otherwise obligated, for a military purpose.

The Board of Trustees of the United States Peace Tax Fund shall be composed of eleven members.

Nine of them, not more than five from the same political party, are appointed by the President, by and with the advice and consent of the Senate, from among individuals who have demonstrated a consistent commitment to world peace, international friendship, and the peaceful resolution of international conflict, together with two members who shall also meet the above criteria, one of whom shall be appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate, upon recommendations of the majority leader and the minority leader, from among the members of the US Senate, and one of whom shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, upon the recommendations of the majority leader and the minority leader, from among the members of the House.

The term of office of each member shall be six years. Each member shall be eligible for reappointment for one additional term, but no person shall serve for more than twelve years as a member of the Board. Six members of the Board shall constitute a quorum. The Board shall elect a chairman from among the members of the Board.

The Board will have to spend the appropriated money to such activities as:

  1. Retraining workers displaced by conversion from military production or activities;
  2. Research directed towards developing and evaluating nonmilitary and nonviolent solutions to international conflicts;
  3. Disarmament efforts;
  4. Special projects of the United States Institute of Peace;
  5. International exchanges for peaceful purposes;
  6. Improvement of international health, education, and welfare; and
  7. Programs for providing information to and education of the public concerning such activities.

Funds designated for the purpose of research may be directed to governmental, nongovernmental, national and international organisations. Funds for nondomestic programs involving the providing of goods and services shall be restricted in distribution to the United Nations and associated agencies.

The Board shall publish regulations for the submission of applications for funds by persons and agencies and shall determine the eligibility of such persons and agencies.

Before approving the application of any such person or agency the Board shall determine, after a comprehensive review of all the functions and activities of the person or agency requesting approval, that such functions and activities have a nonmilitary purpose.

The Board shall submit a budget to the US Congress, shall report to the US President and to the US Congress annually on the activities of the Board, and shall provide a complete accounting of all funds received and disbursed.

Section 9 under f makes clear that it is the intent of the bill that the Fund shall not operate to release funds for military expenditures which, were it not for the existence of the Fund, would otherwise have been appropriated for nonmilitary expenditures.

In section 12 some important definitions are given:

The term military purpose means any activity or program conducted, administered, or sponsored by an agency of the Government which effects an augmentation of military forces, defensive and offensive intelligence activities, or enhances the ability of any person or nation to wage war.

The term actual appropriations made for a military purpose includes but is not limited to amounts appropriated by the United States in connection with:

  1. The Department of Defence;
  2. The Central Intelligence Agency;
  3. The National Security Council;
  4. The Selective Service System;
  5. Activities of the Department of Energy that have a military purpose;
  6. Activities of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) that have a military purpose;
  7. Foreign military aid and foreign economic aid made available to any country for the purpose of releasing local funds for military activities; and
  8. The training, supplying, or maintaining of military personnel, or the manufacture, construction, maintenance or development of military weapons, installations, or strategies.

The bill is primarily a provision for conscientious objections. In view of special American circumstances perhaps the bill does not create a precedent towards other groups who demand legal alternatives with respect to other issues as education and welfare.

Conscientious objections against war have an established place in American history and tradition already since the seventeenth century.[3]

Objections against other government activities cannot claim such a special status.

On May 21 1992 a hearing has been held by a Subcommittee of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives with regard to the bill.[4]

A lot of representatives of peace organisations and denominations have spoken in favour of the bill.

One of the most important organisations with regard to the pursuit of this bill is the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. This organisation is sustaining the momentum gained by the hearing in 1992.

The bill gets more attention on Capital Hill at the moment and therefore gets closer scrutiny.[5]

The part of the Peace Tax Fund Bill that has been most problematic in Congress is the section on eligible receivers of money from the fund. Probably this will lead to some modification on this point. At this moment there are contacts between the peace tax campaign and churches on the one hand and the White House on the other hand. The White House facilitated negotiations with the Treasury Department over the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund legislation.

The Dutch proposal looks very much like the American bill. An important difference is that according to the American bill all the tax money of the conscientious objector flows first to the Peace Fund and after that, the amount of the portion with regard to the fact that conscientious objections occur, will flow to the general resources on the condition that no military expenditure will take place with that money. The money that remains in the fund has to be spent by the Board for earmarked expenditure as promotion of peace.

It is clearly the intention of the American bill that the Fund will not operate to release money for military expenditure in any way.

In the Dutch bill only a portion, the objected part, of the tax money is transferred to the Peace Fund and the remaining part will stay in the General Treasury, from which also military expenditure is paid. In view of the conscientious objections involved it appears that the American bill is more consistent on this point.

The American bill gives a provision with regard to all military expenditure with a specification of that, whereas the Dutch bill only covers the expenditure of the Department of Defence.


  • [1] Formerly the bill was called the ‘World Peace Tax Fund Bill’, and later the ‘United States Peace Tax Fund Bill’.

    The bills in the US House of Representatives are, inter alia, the bill d.d. April 9 1987, H.R. 2041, the bill d.d. April 3 1989, H.R. 1994, the bill d.d. April 17 1991, H.R. 1870.

    The bills in the US Senate are, inter alia, the bill d.d. November 17 1983, S.2105, the bill d.d. April 13 1989, S.784.

    According to the Newsletter of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, Number 3, Fall 1995, Washington, DC 1995, the present legislation in the US house of Representatives : H.R. 1402 and in the Senate : to be introduced.

  • [2] See the Statement of Mark O. Hatfield, US Senator from the State of Oregon, d.d. May 21 1992 before the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures of the US House of Representatives, pages 41 to 49.
  • [3] See pages 111 and 112 of War Tax Resistance, a Guide To Withholding Your Support From The Military, Fourth edition by Ruth Benn, New York/Philadelphia, January 1992. See also Peter S.Brock, The Quaker Peace Testimony 1660 to 1914, York 1990, page 49: in 1673 during the war with the Republic of the United Netherlands the Assembly of the British Colony of Rhode Islands (now one of the fifty United States of America) made already a provision for conscientious objections to the military service.
  • [4] See the Report of this hearing; Hearing before the Subcommittee on Select Revenue Measures of the Committee on Ways and Means House of Representatives,102 Congress,second session on H.R. 65 What I can do for America Act, H.R. 1733 To exempt from Income Tax Certain Common Investments Funds and H.R. 1870 United States Peace Tax Fund Act, May 21, 1992, Serial 102-98, Washington 1992.
  • [5] See the Newsletter of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, Number 3, Autumn 1995, Washington, DC 1995.

Copyright and responsibility Erik Th. Hummels 1997

Berkenlaan 14, 3707 BC Zeist, The Netherlands

tel.+31.30.6922057 and +31.2511224

telefax +31.30.2541786 internet: ehummels@xs4all.nl

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