A Classic Case of Conscience | Sojourners

A Classic Case of Conscience

On August 24, the federal government sent Bill Ramsey to jail for 30 days to persuade him to pay the military portion of his taxes, which he has been withholding each year for the past two decades. His month of incarceration had quite the opposite effect.

"It was the wrong place to send me if they wanted to convince me to pay my war taxes," Ramsey told Sojourners in an interview from the Williamson County Jail on the eve of his release. "Here I was, in the midst of young men who were obviously all victimized by the arms race--these were the very people in this country who have suffered because of the arms buildup. Nothing I've seen in these prisons has lessened my resolve to refuse to pay my war taxes."

Ramsey, a 1973 graduate of Duke Divinity School, wasn't arrested for his war tax resistance--criminal prosecution of tax protest is quite rare. Rather, he was arrested during a Holy Week vigil in 1992 in the waiting room of the IRS office in St. Louis, convicted of handing out leaflets without a permit, and sentenced that August to three years probation, with the proviso that he "pay any taxes to be owed" as a condition of the probation.

At the time of his sentencing, Ramsey said, "If they are interested in prosecuting me for refusing to pay my taxes, they should indict me for that. But what they are doing is using a misdemeanor conviction to enforce something they are not willing to go to court about."

THIS SPRING RAMSEY again publicly refused to pay his war taxes and sent a letter to Judge George Gunn informing him of that fact. Meanwhile, Ramsey's appeal of the conviction and sentence was turned down by the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals, and in July Gunn ruled him in violation of probation and sentenced him to jail and a year of "supervised release," with the same provision: that he file and pay his taxes.

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Sojourners Magazine November 1993
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