Conscientious objection to military taxation
Today, on the centenary of the Military Service Act 1916 coming into force, Conscience: Taxes for Peace not War is launching their Taxes for Peace Bill in Parliament. Conscience campaigns to allow people to legally object to funding the military through the tax system, diverting taxes to be used on the military towards peacebuilding.
Refusing to pay taxes to fund the military has a long history, from Quakers in Pennsylvania in the 1700s refusing to pay for British military ventures in America to war tax resisters protesting against military spending in recent years. Conscience, founded by Quakers in 1977, continues this work today. Holly Wallis from Conscience outlines the reasons behind the current campaign.
2 March 2016 marks 100 years since all unmarried men aged 18–41 were deemed to have enlisted in the British Army as a consequence of the Military Service Act 1916. The Act simultaneously introduced compulsory military service and recognised the inclusive right to conscientious objection in Britain for the first time.
The dedicated convictions of WWI conscientious objectors led to this conscience clause, a milestone moment in the history of individual freedoms.
100 years on, the Act holds more than just historic value. Conscript armies have been replaced with high-tech weapons, professional armies and the ideology of deterrence. The progress of individual rights in regards to warfare has been accompanied by a regression to ever more powerful and inhumane methods of destruction, from incendiary weapons to the threat of nuclear genocide.
We do not have the individual freedom of voluntary consent to this – technological warfare is paid for with our taxes. Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War believes this needs to change.
Taxes for Peace
Conscience is introducing a bill to Parliament during the centenary proposing to update the conscience clause to allow for conscientious objection to military taxation (COMT). Conscience’s Taxes for Peace Bill would extend the freedom of conscience to those who are morally, ethically or religiously opposed to war to redirect the military portion of their taxes towards a fund designated for non-military security.
Since 1916, the right to freedom of conscience has been recognised in every significant international treaty. The European Convention on Human Rights, the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the UK Human Rights Act all testify that everyone has the right to “…freedom of thought, conscience and religion.” COMT is therefore based on a recognised human right, not a political decision.
Funding welfare in support of our citizens from ‘cradle to grave’ is something we can all be proud of. However, being forced to pay for sanctioned killing and intimidation through threat of death and destruction is an issue that goes further than the state.
Conscience campaigns on behalf of those who do not want to have any involvement in war and preparation for war, yet cannot legally avoid being financially conscripted into the military. For many, paying for war violates their freedom of religion. Military tax is an issue many Quakers would recognise as part of their understanding of the peace testimony. If it asks Friends to refuse to kill, instead directing their energy to peace, does it not also ask them to withdraw their financial resources from killing and redirect them to peacebuilding?
Many who are led to this conclusion are faced with the option of either keeping income below the taxable level, or illegally withholding a portion of taxes and facing prosecution and bankruptcy. This lack of alternative to funding the military is financial conscription with no right to object.
Contributing to security
At a time when Britain is spending £105,000 of the taxpayer’s money every time it fires a Brimstone Missile, Conscience’s Bill recognises the rights of those who otherwise do not have a say in how their own security is provided. It is a government’s duty to keep its people safe and secure, and that is something we should all contribute to financially. This does not mean, however, that this security can only be established through threat of violence and overseas murder. Peacebuilding is a more sustainable, effective and economic form of security.
The centenary this year is therefore not simply an occasion to celebrate Britain’s leading role in the democratisation of war, or to commemorate the sacrifices men and women made for our freedom of conscience. Whilst commemorating WWI COs, Conscience’s bill recognises the need to bring conscientious objection up to date in this country, as warfare is still taking place in our name, with our money.
For more information on ways you can get involved in this campaign, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
If you are forced by your conscience to confront your complicity in war or to work for peace, please join Conscience’s register of COs by filling in a statement of conscience form. The register and statements will be used in support of the Taxes for Peace Bill.
Holly Wallis is a Quaker Peace & Social Witness peaceworker. Find out more about QPSW peaceworkers.
Bert Brocklesby was called before a tribunal in Doncaster when he claimed a conscientious objection to joining the army. He wrote out a transcript of the hearing.