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Taxes, Conscience, and the Constitution

18 Pages Posted: 19 Oct 2005  

Steven Douglas Smith

University of San Diego School of Law

Abstract

It was often claimed in the founding period - and it is claimed today by jurists like Justice Souter and by scholars like Noah Feldman - that citizens have a right of conscience not to pay taxes that will be used to advance religious teachings which they do not believe. But advocates of this position typically reject the corresponding claim that citizens have a right of conscience not to pay taxes that will be used to advance non-religious (or, in their view, anti-religious) teachings in which they do not believe. Are these positions reconcilable? This essay investigates the question and concludes that they are not. Nor is it a tenable position to hold that conscience is violated by the use of a citizen's tax dollars to promote any beliefs, religious or non-religious, that particular taxpayers reject. So jurists and scholars would do well to drop the selective and opportunistic appeal to the ostensible connection between taxes and conscience.

Keywords: conscience, taxes, religion

JEL Classification: K10

Suggested Citation

Smith, Steven Douglas, Taxes, Conscience, and the Constitution. San Diego Legal Studies Paper No. 07-12. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=803544 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.803544

Steven Douglas Smith (Contact Author)

University of San Diego School of Law ( email )

5998 Alcala Park
San Diego, CA 92110-2492
United States
619-260-7969 (Phone)
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