Live Well, Do Good

Do we have to pay all of our income taxes?

Brandon Sun, April 22, 2019 - David McConkey

An income tax story in the Winnipeg Free Press and on CBC radio caught my attention. A farming couple in eastern Manitoba, along with others across Canada, refuse to pay the military portion of their income taxes. Because of their religious beliefs, they assert that they should be exempt from funding war. Are they right? I would like to explore this because it raises issues like the freedom of religion and conscience.

Ernie and Charlotte Wiens of La Salle, belong to a Mennonite Brethren congregation. They don’t believe in war. They have been not paying for the military – which they calculate at 10% of the federal budget – for a decade. They have been diverting the money instead to a peace tax trust fund. Ernie is 72, Charlotte 69.

“We do it because of our faith, because of our understanding of the message of Christ,” Ernie told the Free Press.

Their families have a long history of opposing war. Charlotte’s father and two of Ernie’s uncles were conscientious objectors during the Second World War. They would like to carry that tradition forward to today.

“How can we live out our convictions about peace building in our time?” Ernie asked. “How can we pray for peace, but pay for war?”

To most Canadians, calling Canada’s posture in the world war-like seems bizarre. As is criticizing Canada’s participation in the Second World War. Canada went to war in 1939 for no gain on our part, but to help liberate others subjugated by Nazi Germany and imperial Japan. The conflict could be a textbook example of a “just war.” To Canadians whose family members were killed in that war, the opinions of the Wiens are deeply offensive.

I want to make one point clear. I do not think that the Wiens are wrong because their views are unpopular or because their views are offensive to many. I think the Wiens are wrong in their assertion that anyone should be able to choose what taxes to pay, based on religion. This concept would tear apart our civil society.

For one thing, any such approach would be completely impractical. Take the Canadian military as an example. Even if one had the option to fund only “peace,” what would one change? End our membership in NATO, which many argue has kept Europe at peace since 1945? End our combat capacity to confront violent terrorists? End our United Nations peacekeeping? End our capability to save lives by helping during international and domestic natural disasters?

Now let’s look at the other concern. The Wiens claim they have the right of religious freedom to not pay for the military. Don’t people in Canada have the right to practise their religion? The answer is: No.

Religious beliefs are an exercise in moral relativity. Consider war and peace: most Christians have a very different perspective than the Wiens. There are also diverse views within Christianity on a host of issues relating to men and women, respect given to – or rejection of – LGBT individuals, treatment of children, and more. “Christian values” mean very different things to different people! Furthermore, there are many religions. And new religions are started up every day.

Some cherished religious traditions even lead to practices rightly identified as “barbaric.” The Canadian government warns newcomers to Canada that barbaric cultural practices are not tolerated here. Our government lists as examples: “spousal abuse, ‘honour killings,’ female genital mutilation, forced marriage or other gender-based violence.”

So, yes, everyone in Canada has the right to any and all religious beliefs. But not the right to any and all religious practices!

Everyone in Canada is free to hold whatever beliefs they want, including about any government policy. But everyone cannot be free to pay for only the parts of the government that they think fit their religious beliefs.

So, everyone, please enjoy your freedoms in Canada. The freedom to hold any religious or other belief. Or non-belief, for that matter. The freedom to elect your government. The freedom to voice your approval or objection to any government policy.

Remember how our freedoms are safeguarded. By the military and other government institutions, of course. But also by us citizens sustaining a civil society every day. Part of supporting a civil society is paying our taxes – all of them.

* * * 

See also:

Tax Time Offers Folks a Chance to Reflect

Charitable Donations:  Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips

Political Contributions:  Top Ten Canadian Tax Tips

Our Citizenship, Paid For By Our Taxes

Effective Altruism Poised to Make Major Impact

Rights and Religions

Role of Religion in War and Peace

Religion and Values in the Public Square

Brandon's Messenger of Peace: J.S. Woodsworth

God Dominating the News

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