I think that most Americans would agree with the following basic principles: Government, at any level, should not be able to coerce citizens to do things that conflict with their religious and moral beliefs; and citizens should also not be forced to support with their tax dollars government activities that contradict those beliefs.
At present, disparate religious groups on different ends of the religious and political spectrums claim this right for themselves. Catholics, evangelical Protestants, and others do not want the federal government supporting abortion, contraception, or family planning activities and do not want to be forced to provide such services. Quakers, Mennonites, and other members of “peace churches” do not want their tax dollars to support military expenditures. Some have even put themselves at risk of asset seizure or imprisonment by participating in “war tax resistance.”
I believe that the same principles apply to both cases. What we need to do is decide as a society whether these principles are valid or not, whatever their applications might turn out to be. I submit that as a matter of religious freedom, they should be regarded as valid, and recognized as such in law. I further submit that to apply these principles in the one case but not the other is hypocritical. If they are valid, they are valid across the board.
Here is what I propose: citizens should have the ability to specify on their tax returns that their individual tax dollars will not be applied to certain specific activities of government. This would a matter of simple bookkeeping, not affecting a citizen’s actual tax liability, and simple enough to implement using modern technology. I believe that this is a matter of basic religious freedom, and I would call for liberal and conservative religious organizations alike to cooperate to make this right a reality for all American citizens, of whatever faith.
Walter S. Mendler