Taxes for Peace Not War - a new bill to go before Parliament
March 2nd 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 1916 Military Service Act, which simultaneously introduced compulsory military service and the inclusive right to conscientious objection to Britain for the first time.
The dedicated convictions of WW1 conscientious objectors led to this conscience clause, a milestone moment in the history of individual freedoms. The government will no doubt celebrate Britain’s leading role in the lawful recognition of conscience on the centenary of this act, whilst failing to see that for many, the fight for freedom of conscience has not yet been won.
Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War is introducing a bill to parliament during the centenary of the Military Service Act of 1916 which would allow for conscientious objection to military taxation (COMT). Our ‘Taxes for Peace Bill’ would provide the freedom of conscience to those who are morally, ethically or religiously opposed to war to be able to re-direct the military portion of their taxes towards a fund designated for non-military security and conflict resolution and prevention work.
Conscience believes that the right to conscientious objection is still not fully recognised in British law, as we are still financially conscripted into military service through the taxation system. Modern wars are no longer fought with conscript armies, but with professional armies using high-tech weapons, paid for with our taxes. Before the first shot has been fired, we are already supporting the use of violence. This is financial conscription with no right to object. Since the ending of conscription into the armed forces, if the right of conscientious objection is to have any real meaning, it must be through the right not to support war and preparations for war with our taxes.
COMT, the option to divert one’s taxes away from nuclear weapons, arms fairs and drone strikes on our own citizens abroad, is based on a recognised human right, not a political decision such as not wanting pay for education because you don’t have children. 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 early graves and intimidation through threat of death and destruction is an issue that goes further than the state.
Freedom of conscience is, in fact, a right already recognised within every significant international treaty - the European Convention on Human Rights, United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the British Human Rights Act all testify that: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion". Clearly, a tax system that makes big moral decisions on war, conflict and murder without consulting the individuals who pay for it, is damaging for individual liberty.
Conscience campaigns for this liberty 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. Many Quakers, for example, have been engaged in our campaign because they are a particular religious group whose faith asks them to give witness to their peace testimony, and who must therefore confront their complicity in war. But they are just one among many: Mennonites, Ba'hais, Buddhists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Haredim Jews all practice conscientious objection for reasons of faith.
When discussing withholding tax, one Anglican supporter of Conscience said: “This cumbersome process is the only way I can continue to refuse to pay for other people to engage in warfare (that takes human life inevitably) in direct opposition to the Christian demand that we try to love one another.”
We campaign for the right of those individuals who withhold tax or don't pay tax at all because they equate paying for deliberate killing with doing it themselves, and have no alternative means of exercising their right of conscience. In manifesting their pacifist beliefs they face prison and bankruptcy. Any system which criminalises citizens for refusing to be complicit in war is clearly in urgent need of reform.
Amongst debates about renewing Trident, leaving NATO and bombing Syria, our 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. It would mean the UK leads in saving lives rather than ending them.
The Centenary this year provides the perfect opportunity to draw attention to the fact that the laws surrounding conscientious objection need to be updated to reflect changes in warfare, and to argue that we are still unable to fully exercise our freedom of conscience in regards to war.
For more information on ways you can get involved in this campaign, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you object to paying taxes for military preparations, please register as a conscientious objector here
© Holly Wallis. Holly Wallis is Parliamentary Officer for Conscience, which campaigns for a peace tax.
* Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War http://www.conscienceonline.org.uk/
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