Saturday, September 17, 2022
Crawford & Afield: Reimagining The Tax System Through The Work Of Dorothy Day
Bridget J. Crawford (Pace; Google Scholar) & W. Edward "Ted" Afield (Georgia State; Google Scholar), Yesterday's Protestor May Be Tomorrow's Saint: Reimagining the Tax System Through the Work of Dorothy Day, 76 Tax L. Rev. ___ (2023):
When is the nonpayment of taxes justified by conscientious objections? Legendary Catholic social activist Dorothy Day refused to pay federal income taxes, because she was an avowed pacifist who also cautioned against government overreach into the lives of citizens. This article asks whether the tax system should accommodate those who have moral objections, and if so, how accomplish that. Through the lens of Dorothy Day, who devoted her adult life to workers’ rights, pacificism, and service to the poor, this article makes three contributions to the conversation about the administration of a fair tax system.
First, the article examines Day on her own terms. It is difficult, but not impossible, to reconcile Day’s tax resistance with the Catholic social teaching on taxation that was emerging during her lifetime.
Second, the article considers what insights Catholic doctrine offers into the structure and substance of a just tax system. Although there is not as much theological writing on taxation as there is on other social issues, Catholic social teaching does provide some guidance about the purpose, form and operation of a just tax system.
From these insights, the article moves to suggest specific improvements to the tax system: formal mechanisms that bring conscientious objectors into tax compliance; enhanced communication about the tax system’s role in administering the country’s most effective anti-poverty programs; and enforcement priorities that do not disproportionately target the poor. While these proposals might not be sufficient to have caused a steadfast antiwar protestor like Day to pay taxes, they illuminate a path toward much-needed reforms of the federal income tax system.