Every so often (especially this time of year), someone writes to let me in on a secret. “J.D., did you know you don’t have to pay income taxes?” they’ll say. “It’s true! Income tax is illegal!”
I’ve never known how to respond to these folks. Now, I can just point them to the Tax Protester FAQ. This comprehensive collection of tax protester fallacies was put together by Pennsylvania attorney Daniel B. Evans. Evans says that there are two types of tax protesters:
- Those who refuse to pay taxes for religious/moral reasons.
- Those who refuse to pay taxes “out of a mistaken belief that the federal income tax is unconstitutional, invalid, voluntary, or otherwise does not apply to them under one of a number of bizarre arguments”.
His FAQ addresses the assertions made by the second set of people.
Here’s how Evans describes his mission:
The purpose of this FAQ is to provide concise, authoritative rebuttals to nonsense about the U.S. tax system that is frequently posted on web sites scattered throughout the Internet, by a variety of fanatics, idiots, charlatans, and dupes, frequently referred to by the courts as “tax protesters”.
In this FAQ, you will read many decisions of judges who refer to the views of tax protesters as “frivolous,” “ridiculous,” “absurd,” “preposterous,” or “gibberish.” If you don’t read a lot of judicial opinions, you may not understand the full weight of what it means when a judge calls an argument “frivolous” or “ridiculous.”
When a judge calls an argument “ridiculous” or “frivolous,” it is absolutely the worst thing the judge could say. It means that the person arguing the case has absolutely no idea of what he is doing, and has completely wasted everyone’s time. It doesn’t mean that the case wasn’t well argued, or that judge simply decided for the other side, it means that there was no other side. The argument was absolutely, positively, incompetent. The judge is not telling you that you that you were “wrong.” The judge is telling you that you are out of your mind.
This FAQ addresses only assertions that are frivolous, and only questions of law, not politics or economics. It is not the purpose of this FAQ to criticize any opinion, or stifle any debate, about the proper scope or operation of the federal tax system. For example, claims that the federal income tax is unfair, morally equivalent to theft, or bad economic policy are all matters of opinion, not law, and are outside the scope of this FAQ. However, a claim that the federal income tax is unconstitutional, unenforceable, or inapplicable is an assertion of law and is within the scope of this FAQ.
So, as I tried to do when I wrote my survey of the truth about taxes, Evans isn’t arguing whether the tax system is fair or unfair — he’s just trying to explain the law.
The Tax Protester FAQ addresses dozens of faulty anti-tax arguments, offering context and legal background for each rebuttal. Here are a few examples:
- The Internal Revenue Code is not a law.
- Wages are not income.
- The income tax is voluntary.
- If you don’t file a Form W-4, you can’t be taxed.
- The ever-popular “the income tax is illegal because the 16th Amendment wasn’t properly ratified” argument.
- And, perhaps my favorite: Is tax protesting a cult?
The Tax Protester FAQ is l-o-n-g and often dry. But if you’ve ever been fascinated by this topic (as I have), it’s well worth browsing. It gives a glimpse at how law works in the U.S., and shows the lengths some folks will go to escape paying taxes.
I know taxes suck. Nobody likes them, but they’re part of the price we pay to live in modern society. We wouldn’t have roads, bridges, schools, or law enforcement without them. And while I think we all should pay as little as we’re legally obligated, I think cheating on taxes is wrongheaded and unpatriotic.
Look, I have no problem with you complaining about taxes. That’s your right. Play by the rules; if you don’t like the rules, then work to change them. But don’t argue the rules don’t exist.