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Special levies or fines were imposed in the 16th century as a milder form of persecution alongside the harsher forms of confiscation of property, exile, imprisonment, and execution, and were continued on down into the 18th century after the harsher forms were abolished. In Zürich in 1525 parents who would not have their children baptized were fined up to five pounds, while in 1526 those who baptized others were given fines of 10-15 pounds. In some cases the Anabaptists had to pay the trial costs. Later those who aided Anabaptists were given fines, while the Anabaptists themselves were fined more heavily. In the mandate of the diet of Augsburg of 1577 lenient judges were threatened with money fines. In most of the mandates of the time similar threats were made against all who would favor the Anabaptists. In the Palatinate those who failed to report Anabaptists were threatened with fines, while in Hesse recanting Anabaptists who returned to their faith were required to pay into the treasury for the poor; Anabaptists leaving their homeland had to pay an emigration fee of 10 gulden.

In the 17th and 18th centuries in the Palatinate all Mennonites were subject to special taxation. A head tax was collected for attendance at their services, which had previously been forbidden. Another special tax was imposed as compensation for exemption from military service. Soon a general tax was imposed. Hutterites living in Mannheim in the mid-17th century were freed from guard duty on payment of two to three gulden per family. Although the Concession of 1664 granted by the Electoral Palatine government mentioned the right of exemption from militia duty, in the course of time a special annual tax was imposed toward the cost of maintaining the militia, at first three gulden per family, later six, and finally twelve gulden. The Mennonites protested this tax, at times on the grounds of poverty, at other times on grounds of conscience since they did not want to contribute toward war in any respect. Frequently special fees were levied for registration of deaths, births, and marriages. The Mennonite settlement of Ibersheim was a special case, since here the settlement paid an annual special tax of 50 gulden in place of head taxes.

The collection of the Mennonite head taxes in the Electoral Palatinate, Baden-Durlach, and other territories often led to quarrels between the local and general authorities; usually the general authorities won out, while the Mennonites paid the bill. With every change of rulers the Mennonites had to petition for a renewal of their privileges and usually had to pay extra "donation money in this connection." At times large sums of money were forced out of Mennonite pockets into the princely treasuries by simple pressure or extortion. In Alsace the Mennonites had a long and hard struggle to secure and maintain the privilege of exemption from military service, in the course of which heavy payments of money had to be made. Sometimes families preferred to immigrate to America rather than keep on paying the severe taxes. It was only toward the end of the 18th century, when the valuable contribution of Mennonite farmers to the improvement of agriculture was recognized, that the levies of special "protection money" finally lessened and later ceased. The French Revolution (1789) in general finally put an end to the special taxation of Mennonites in South Germany and Alsace.

In other parts of Germany as well special levies were imposed upon Anabaptists and Mennonites, in effect in return for limited toleration. In East Friesland, for instance, the ruler Rudolf Christian in 1626 introduced the practice of requiring a certain payment per family annually in return for a Schutzbrief (letter of protection), thereby setting a pattern for his successors until East Friesland became Prussian in 1744. But even the Lutheran pastors in this area, particularly in Norden, joined in extorting money by demanding that the Mennonites pay taxes for the upkeep of Lutheran churches and by collecting fees for services, such as funerals, which they did not render. It was only in 1894 that the Mennonites were freed from making contributions to the state church. Similar fees had to be paid by Mennonites in Krefeld to the Reformed Church until they were released from them by the king of Prussia ca. 1720, although in 1721 he required the payment of a fee for the privilege of exemption from military service.

In other places also in Germany, money payments were required in lieu of military service. In 1814 in West Prussia, when the Landsturm (militia) was established, Mennonites were required to pay a certain sum per acre to support the Landsturm. In Prussia Mennonites were everywhere required to pay the same church taxes (for the support of the state church of course) until into the 20th century. In West Prussia the long legal battle necessary to free the Mennonites from the state church taxes was not victoriously concluded until 1922.

War Taxes. Among the Anabaptists in Moravia the differences regarding payment of special war taxes to support the war against the Turks led to a serious division in 1527. In Nikolsburg Hubmaier led a group ("Schwertler") who paid the tax and approved the use of the sword in self-defense against the Turks, while the opposing group ("Stabler") were negative on both points. In 1511 the "Pikards" in Austerlitz declared they could not pay the war taxes, which were against their conscience. The agreement of 26 November 1556 between the Palatine and Hutterite Anabaptists in the region of Kreuznach stipulated the following regarding the payment of war taxes: "But what is blood money, and serves wars or other unrighteous things or undertakings of the government out of itself and not out of divine orders and thereby attacks the conscience, the God-fearing man is not obliged to pay them, because God demands of him that he love his enemy (Matthew 5; Romans 12), and the God-fearing man has promised this to God, and he shall not make any weapon that serves only that end (Isaiah 2; Micah 4), that the God-fearing man may not be a partaker in their wickedness or blood guilt."

The Hutterites consistently refused to pay war taxes and special levies. Peter Riedemann's Rechenschaft of 1545 says on this point: "For war, killing, and bloodshed (where it is demanded especially for that) we give nothing, but not out of wickedness or arbitrariness, but out of the fear of God (1 Timothy 5) that we may not be partakers in strange sins."

In the United States some contemporary pacifists have refused to pay that portion of their federal income taxes which they calculate goes to support the military department and preparation for war, which in the 1950s was about two thirds of the total; few if any Mennonites had taken this course. However, in the time of the Revolutionary War (1776-1783) the Mennonites of the Franconia Conference in Pennsylvania divided over their attitude toward the Revolution, including the payment of special war taxes to the rebellious colonies, the majority being opposed to the payment of such taxes. As a consequence Bishop Christian Funk and his small group of followers were expelled in 1777. -- Harold S. Bender

1990 Update

Taxes and war are inextricably linked together. When governments wage war, they eventually levy taxes to pay for them. The taxes may be explicit or indirect. Unfortunately most citizens find themselves implicated in making payments to a military leviathan, regardless of which century or country they live in. Anabaptists almost consistently avoided military service but, with the exception of the Hutterites, expressly urged payment of tax money which made war possible. Can Mennonites still be conscientious objectors when the primary tool of war is money?

For 16th-century Hutterites the issue of "blood money" was clear and unequivocal. They could see no significant difference between fighting a war and supporting it with taxes. Still Anabaptist and Mennonite histories reveal a lot of indecision about the propriety of paying military-related taxes. Much of this is due to the widespread assumption that there was a biblical mandate to pay all taxes much like other financial obligations. These assumptions are being challenged again by scholars and others in the 20th century.

Conscience was alive among Mennonites and Dunkers (Church of the Brethren) on 7 November 1775, when they submitted a joint declaration to the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, saying that they were ready at all times to help those in need, but that they were "not at Liberty in Conscience to take up Arms to conquer our Enemies." Drafters of the U.S. constitution (1783-89) recognized the equivalence of conscientious objection to war taxes, as well as military service, by the historic peace churches. Recognition of this connection failed to remain in the final draft of the second amendment to the constitution. As a result, states then required payment in lieu of military service.

In Prussia Mennonites were disinclined to pay the military and church taxes based on land ownership. By the 1780s they were apprehensive about the growing military preparations, particularly the annual tax of 5,000 thaler required for the support of military schools. This factor prompted many to relocate in southern Russia and was among the factors leading others to form the Kleine Gemeinde by 1814.

There were no income taxes in the United States until 1862, when they were imposed to pay for the Civil War. Americans were outraged at the imposition of war taxes, which were lifted again in 1872. It is notable that the first proposal of a general federal government income tax was made in 1815, in part to pay for the expenses of the war of 1812-14.

When Mennonites were migrating to Kansas, an existing law (1865) required the payment annually of a $30 fine for the privilege of exemption from military service. In response to recommendations from the governor, the legislature repealed the "onerous tax" on March 9, 1874.

Income taxes reappeared in the United States in 1913 just in time to pay for World War I. It was a "class tax" upon the wealthy. Most Mennonites were not affected by it. However, they cooperated with patriotic expectations as best they could, "developing their own programs of voluntary benevolence and relief to provide a moral equivalent of military service and war bond drives." With increased pressure practically everyone "bought a few bonds." Bond drives were a problem in that they were designed not only to finance the war but also to foster patriotism. The bonds did focus the money aspect of war (Margaret Entz in Menn. life [Sept 1975], 4-9), and some Mennonites who refused to buy bonds suffered violence as a result.

World War I proved to be a watershed experience for the Mennonites. Their confrontation with the government's military authorities on the draft was so traumatic that the peace churches turned almost the whole of their attention to military duty requirements and forgot their testimony against taxes for war.

World War II saw the Victory Tax of 1943 established as the first "mass tax" through withholding at the source of income, the employer. Continued uneasiness with governmental pressure to purchase war bonds led to a Mennonite Central Committee effort to substitute "Civilian Bonds." However, U.S. Treasury officials did not clearly commit themselves to use the proceeds strictly for civilian purposes.

The war tax issue remained largely dormant during World War II. The first Mennonite to mention the subject was Austin Regier, a non-registrant, who was sentenced to a federal penitentiary for refusing to comply with the draft. He firmly believed that "the consistent pacifist would refuse war taxes." The idea of organizing war tax resistance in the United States seems to have begun with the Peacemaker Movement which was formed by a heterogeneous group of pacifists in Chicago early in 1948.

An increasingly larger portion of the U.S. federal budget has gone to finance past, present, and future wars in the 1970s and 1980s. Numerous statements have been issued as part of a new wave of concern beginning in 1958. "A Call to Action" was issued by Mennonites and Brethren in Christ meeting in Minneapolis on 21 November 1970. The Way of Peace, a Christian declaration supporting war tax refusal, was adopted by the General Conference Mennonite Church at Fresno, CA, on 19 August 1971. Other statements and resolutions followed in 1974, 1977, 1980, and 1983. The Mennonite Church (MC) issued resolutions in 1979, 1981, 1985, and 1987. A special conference (GCM) was held in Minneapolis in February 1979 specifically to discuss and explore war tax options. The General Board was mandated "to use all legal, legislative, and administrative avenues for achieving a conscientious objector exemption." This followed the Inter-Mennonite/Brethren in Christ War Tax Conference held in Kitchener, ON, 30 October-1 November 1975. In response to the growing war tax concern, the Commission on Home Ministries (GCM) began publishing the God and Caesar newsletter in January of 1975.

As early as 1959 the Society of Friends introduced into the U.S. Congress the "People's Program for Peace" bill. They also circulated a proposal called the "Civilian Income Tax Fund." Other peace tax fund legislation was formulated in 1973. Many Mennonites had refused to pay the telephone excise tax during the Vietnam War.

In March 1974 a Mennonite pastor, Michio Ohno, refused to pay his allotment for Japanese military expenses. Out of the protest, Japanese Fellowship of Reconciliation members, Quakers, Mennonites, and other nonviolent activists worked together to form a group called COMIT (Conscientious Objection to Military Tax). Within 10 years COMIT grew to 400 members, half of whom filed to refuse payment to the military. During the 1980s 22 members brought their appeal to the Tokyo Local Court to challenge the Japanese Government and its tax offices for collecting and spending tax funds unconstitutionally. Hearings were held 23 times during a five-year period. The judges seemed to be avoiding their responsibility. The issue of national defense was so political that the courts refrained from making a decision.

In 1975 Cornelia Lehn (a Canadian citizen) requested her employer, the General Conference Mennonite Church, to refuse to withhold taxes from her salary. Months of intense, agonizing debate followed. In the 1980s similar requests by church employees came before both the Mennonite Church and the Mennonite Central Committee. Both institutions declined to comply with employee requests and continued to withhold taxes and forward the money to the government. Finally, on 1 September 1983, the General Conference Mennonite Church honored such requests. By official conference action "the employees of the Church administration are given the power to be true to the high demands of Christ's Law of Love, in that they can decline to remit withholding taxes from employees that have requested it and therefore open up the possibility to resist for reasons of conscience to pay for the preparation of war." The conference reported these decisions to the federal government's Internal Revenue Service (IRS) but as of 21 September 1987, no action had been taken against the conference. Because of this shift of attention to the corporate level, new opportunities for witness have opened up. It is believed that never before in U.S. history have employers refused to withhold taxes for those employees who request this action for reasons of conscience.

In 1978 "Conscience Canada" was organized at the instigation of a few Quakers in Victoria, BC. John R. Dyck of Saskatoon, SK, was among the Mennonites who invested energy in this peace education effort. In 1980, Canadians learned that "freedom of conscience" was to be included in the new constitution. Since 1982 this recognition of conscience has become the basis for a new wave of action to create a legal alternative to paying taxes for war. (Peace tax legislation was introduced in 1983 and 1985. The first nationwide meeting was held in April 1987 at Ottawa). 

An increase in open tax resistance is evident despite the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act of 1982 which provides that, in the United States, an individual "shall pay a penalty of $500" if he or she files an income-tax return that is incorrect due either to taking a frivolous position or to seeking to delay or impede administration of the tax law. The 1982 tax law is unique in that there is an automatic penalty imposed on taxpayers. Furthermore, the penalty is assessed before opportunity for appeal is given. This is quite discriminatory and suggests that the Internal Revenue Service may be guilty of violating the fourth amendment of the United States Constitution.

Italy has demonstrated that legislation can remove the burden of military taxes. Italians accused of propagating the Peace Tax Campaign since 1981 have been fully acquitted on "grounds of particular moral and social value," or "the act did not amount to a crime." Peace tax campaigns have emerged, not only in Japan, Canada, Italy, and the United States, but also in Germany, Spain, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Luxembourg, Austria, Norway, South Africa, Sri Lanka, and The Netherlands. This movement has gathered such momentum that an International Peace Tax Campaign Conference was held for the first time in Tübingen, West Germany, 18-21 September 1986. Marian Claassen Franz of Washington, DC, was among the 100 people who met to share information with War Resisters International in London. In 1987 the IRS approved tax deductible status for the Peace Tax Foundation. The campaign for a Peace Tax Fund in the United States now can focus its limited resources on lobbying, while the foundation expands its outreach and research programs.

Conscientious objectors to war in the United States recognize that the solution to their dilemma of conscience concerning the government's tax demands lies in the United States Congress. "So long as the Internal Revenue Code is deficient in recognizing freedom of conscience as protected by the first and ninth amendments, we shall be journeying through this dungeon of IRS levies, summonses and court trials. The origin and the solution to our problem lie most immediately with Congress, and ultimately with a restored public community of conscience" (Robert Hull, 1987). Today's combat soldier is the taxpayer -- the person who provides the money to produce and deploy the push-button hardware and software for mass annihilation. Individuals shoulder great responsibility for warfare and for peace. At times the most effective way to take responsibility is to refuse to collaborate. The task is progressively to make the coercion of conscience unthinkable by the majority who put their faith in military solutions. -- Donald D. Kaufman


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Author(s) Harold S. Bender
Donald D. Kaufman
Date Published 1989

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Bender, Harold S. and Donald D. Kaufman. "Taxes." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 20 Apr 2019.

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Bender, Harold S. and Donald D. Kaufman. (1989). Taxes. Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. Retrieved 20 April 2019, from


Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, pp. 687-688; v. 5, pp. 873-875. All rights reserved.

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