Quaker War Tax Resistance: In 1994, Joseph Olejak stopped paying taxes. Find out why, and what his Quaker Meeting did when it landed him in jail.
- Read more about Joseph’s journey through faith and the justice system
- Subscribe to QuakerSpeak so you never miss a video
- Explore the Quaker way to see if it could be right for you
- Worship with Friends! Find Quakers near you on QuakerFinder and Friends Journal’s meeting listings
- Read Friends Journal to see how other Friends describe the substance of Quaker spirituality
- Quaker Voluntary Service has opportunities for young women and men interested in social and personal transformation through service work and living in Quaker community.
- Joseph quotes Martin Luther King Jr., who said, “You don’t need to see the top of the stairs to take the next step” and calls his action a “step of faith.” What was a time in your life when you took the next step without seeing the top of the stairs? How did it turn out?
- Joseph points out that 57% of our taxes go towards war and the preparation for war, but if there was something called a “peace tax”, then you would have more control over how your money is spent. Are you in support of a peace tax?
My name is Joseph Olejak, I live in Chatham Center, and I attend the Old Chatham Quaker Meeting. My war tax resistance started in 1994. I was listening to “60 Minutes” and Leslie Stahl was interviewing Madeleine Albright, and she asked Madeleine Albright the question: “Was the sacrifice of a half a million children in Iraq, due to the embargo of food and medicine, worth it?” And without skipping a beat, Madeline Albright said, “Yes.”
I knew at that moment, I couldn’t do it anymore. I couldn’t support the war. And I felt compelled to take an action.
In 1994, I started my tax resistance by just not filling. I got the stuff from my accountant back and it had the whole form filled out and the amount that was due and I was holding it in front of me and I just looked at the numbers and I thought, “How much of this is going to go toward creating bombs and guns and nuclear weapons and everything else?” And I just set it down. And I didn’t file.
Quakers and War
The way Quakers look at war is that, when we destroy other human beings, we’re not only destroying humanity but we’re also destroying that in humanity which is a reflection of God. In the Bible, one of the things that Christ himself said was that you should do unto others as you would do unto yourself, and if you love me, you would love your brethren. And that’s really what it stems from.
And if we take that, along with the commandment to not kill, I think it’s pretty clear. It’s unequivocal. There’s no fine print there.
Where Our Tax Dollars Go
When we write that check to the IRS, we often don’t think about where those tax dollars go. According to the American Friends Service Committee, about 57% of those tax dollars are going either to the preparation for war, funding the debt on war, or funding nuclear weapons. 57% of every dollar is an awful lot of money.
If there was indeed a Peace Tax, you would write that check and what the peace tax law would say is, the funds that you’re giving to government are going to be used to support things that are other than war. I think, given our long history as peaceniks, Quakers should definitely have an exception for where their money goes, and anyone else who is a Christian who feels uncomfortable paying for war.
Facing the Consequences
In April of 2009, 11 armed IRS agents in Kevlar vests came into my office and removed all my books and records. And that’s when the prosecution started. I pled guilty to one count of willful failure to file, and told the probation department when I had my interview that I was a Quaker and that did what I did because of conscientious objections to war.
They were pretty lenient on me. They gave me 26 weekends in the county jail, which I’ve completed, and now I’m on probation for 5 years. When I was in the Columbia County jail for my war tax resistance sentence, the Meeting was deeply involved. A lot of people came and visited me, they called me up, they asked me questions, and it was really good. I would say that my spiritual family supported me more than my blood family, which was surprising.
A Step of Faith
Martin Luther King said you don’t need to see the top of the stairs to take the next step. At the time, I felt like there was an important step that needed to be taken, and I took it. Really, it was a step of faith. And, you know, I’m still alive. I’m still here. I still have food. I still have clothing. I still have the support of my children and my Meeting and I think it’s going to be OK.
I’m not unhappy with the decision I took. I won’t say that it hasn’t had its challenges, but I think the challenges have helped me to grow in my faith and have helped to make the world a better place. I know I’ve only done it on a small scale, but I think, with the help of my Meeting and with the growing awareness of the need for peace and a Peace Tax, I’m hoping that this action will shed light and help peace to grow.