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When the Tax Man cometh, they don't answer the bell

Tax resisters say refusal to pay all or part of their taxes is an act of civil disobedience. The IRS and US courts say it's illegal.

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When Ruth Benn of Brooklyn filed her federal income taxes this week, she left out an important element: the check.

"In good conscience I cannot pay this money to the US government," Ms. Benn wrote in a letter to the IRS that accompanied a completed, but unpaid, 1040 form. "I do not want my tax dollars to be used for killing and war."

Benn joins an estimated 10,000 Americans refusing to pay their federal taxes this year in protest of US military power. Many of these conscientious objectors - some driven by personal politics, some by religious beliefs - plan to donate their tax obligation to charity instead.

The Internal Revenue Service does not keep a count of tax resisters, but they're no doubt a tiny fraction of the 120 million people expected to file to Uncle Sam. Though her evidence is anecdotal, Benn sees their ranks growing, noting that three years into the Iraq war her tax-resister clearinghouse has more than doubled its online readership, from 200 hits a day to about 500.

Of course, not paying taxes is against the law. Federal courts have rejected protesters' right to withhold taxes, regardless of the motive, says IRS spokesman Robert Marvin. Although few tax resisters ever face charges, the IRS has cracked down on some offenders.

Last July, a US District judge sentenced three members of the Restored Israel of Yahweh church, which preaches against war taxes, to six months in prison for tax evasion and openly allowing employees of their New Jersey construction company to avoid their income taxes.

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