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Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Tax Protestors and Tax Resistance

It’s not a secret that a lot of people in the United States don’t like paying income taxes.  The aversion to taxation is natural and seems to apply to taxpayers in all countries.  It’s rather surprising to see the tax resistance movement so strong in the United States, however, since the U.S. has some of the lowest income tax rates in the world.  Still, there are tens of thousands of people who argue every year that either Federal law or the U.S. Constitution makes it illegal for the U.S. government to collect taxes from its citizens.  As you might expect, these arguments are never successful in court, and those attempting tax resistance through the use of these arguments generally end up paying taxes and court costs or serving time in prison.  Below, we’ll cover a few of the more interesting arguments put forth by Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution in defense of their unwillingness to pay income taxes.

Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Sovereign Citizens

Some bold taxpayers claim that they simply aren’t citizens of the United States, but are actually “sovereign citizens”, effectively constituting a nation unto themselves.  They claim that they have requested nothing of the government, and therefore owe the government nothing.  Courts have ruled otherwise; if you fit the description of a citizen or a legal resident, you’re required to pay taxes, period Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Federal Zone Arguments

A few tax protestors have gone to court, claiming that the right of the Federal government to tax citizens only applies to “federal zones”, or those areas under direct Federal control.  Such areas would consist of Washington, DC, or U.S. military bases, either within the U.S. or abroad.

Tax Protestors’ Labor Arguments

Several tax protestors have gone to court over the years to fight the government’s right to tax their income.  Their wages, they have argued, aren’t payment, per se; they are something the worker has received from their employer in exchange for something of equal value – their labor.  By suggesting that the labor provided to the employer has the same value as the wages given for that labor, the argument would suggest that the taxpayer’s net income is $0 since the labor and the wages offset one another. Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Various Constitutional Arguments by Tax Protestors

First Amendment

Tax protestors have argued that expressing a religious belief against the payment of taxes constitutes a First Amendment issue and that such religious beliefs should trump Federal tax law.  Courts ruled nearly 150 years ago that religious beliefs do not exempt citizens from having to obey the law.

Second Amendment

Oddly enough, we haven’t found any evidence of someone using the Second Amendment as a means of tax resistance.  We can’t think of any arguments that would justify doing so, but the Second Amendment is always in the discussion by someone, somewhere, and we’re surprised that no one has thought of an argument that invokes the Second Amendment in terms of taxation.  We’re confident that in time, someone will come up with something. Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Fifth Amendment

U.S. tax law requires you to pay taxes on all of your income, whether it was derived from legal or illegal means.  Regardless of how you earned the money, your income is taxable.  Tax protestors have argued that requiring citizens to report illegally-obtained income on their tax returns violates the Fifth Amendment’s right against self-incrimination.  Courts have, of course, ruled otherwise.

Thirteenth Amendment

Tax protestors have argued that this Amendment, which prohibits slavery, somehow means that people don’t have to pay income taxes.  The courts have ruled that laws requiring taxation do not equate to slavery.

Fourteenth Amendment

This argument suggests that taxpayers are not citizens of the United States, but are instead citizens of the states in which they reside.  This is similar to the Federal Zone argument above, with tax protestors saying that citizens have obligations only to their state unless they live within Washington, DC, or a military base.

Others have argued that the progressive tax system in use in the U.S., where the rate of taxation increases with income, violates the Equal Protection clause of this Amendment, which says that U.S. laws must treat all citizens equally.  A few tax protestors have even gone so far as to argue that this Amendment was never properly ratified, which sort of takes the opposite approach of suggesting that the Fourteenth Amendment does justify taxation, but isn’t legal. Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

Sixteenth Amendment

The Sixteenth Amendment arguments tend to take up the most court time among those engaged in tax resistance, as this Amendment was the one that authorized the U.S. government to collect income taxes in the first place.  There are many arguments related to this Amendment, among them:

  • That the Amendment was never properly ratified, for several reasons having to do with either wording or whether Ohio was a state at the time of ratification.
  • That the Amendment authorizes taxes, but not income taxes, and that it applies to corporations but not individual citizens.
  • That references to income in the Amendment do not refer to wages.

    Others have argued that the progressive tax system in use in the U.S., where the rate of taxation increases with income, violates the Equal Protection clause of this Amendment, which says that U.S. laws must treat all citizens equally.  A few tax protestors have even gone so far as to argue that this Amendment was never properly ratified, which sort of takes the opposite approach of suggesting that the Fourteenth Amendment does justify taxation, but isn’t legal. Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

    Sixteenth Amendment

    The Sixteenth Amendment arguments tend to take up the most court time among those engaged in tax resistance, as this Amendment was the one that authorized the U.S. government to collect income taxes in the first place.  There are many arguments related to this Amendment, among them:

    • That the Amendment was never properly ratified, for several reasons having to do with either wording or whether Ohio was a state at the time of ratification.
    • That the Amendment authorizes taxes, but not income taxes, and that it applies to corporations but not individual citizens.
    • That references to income in the Amendment do not refer to wages.

Seventeenth Amendment Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

This Amendment seemingly has little to do with taxation but instead was the one that authorized the people to directly elect Senators, rather than having it done by state legislatures. The argument for this one is that this Amendment was never properly ratified, making any laws passed by the Senate since the non-ratification null and void.

There are many more arguments used in court by tax protestors to try to work their way out of paying their income taxes, and so far, none have been persuasive enough to get a judge to rule in their favor. Paying taxes may be unpleasant, but they are necessary to fund the things that a society needs to function, such as roads and fire departments. Should even a single case ever prevail using one of the arguments above, or anything similar, you can rest assured that Congress will work to swiftly correct the wording of the law. While it may be amusing or entertaining to ponder how to legally work your way out of paying your income taxes, you’re not likely to do it. Tax Protestors Invoke the Constitution

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