A Rare Kind of Freedom -
Why the L.A. Catholic Worker rejects tax exempt status
LOS ANGELES, Apr. 10, 2007 (http://calcatholic.com) - "We have this idea in the back of our head that money corrupts," Catherine Morris, 72, told the Los Angeles Times. Morris, who with her husband, Jeff Dietrich, are longtime members of the Los Angeles Catholic Worker, said, "it seems the first thing that money goes to is salaries, and we have no salaries."
The L.A. Worker is one of a very few charities that does not have tax deductible status. The Worker does receive donations of goods and even money --- about $200,000 a year, said Morris --- from a variety of people, including actor Martin Sheen. But these donations will not cut down anyone’s tax bill.
Not every Catholic Worker house eschews 501(c)(3) status; Berkeley’s Night on the Streets Catholic Worker has it to please an Alameda County food bank. The Santa Ana Catholic Worker set up an affiliated charity with tax-exempt status, also to satisfy a food bank.
Jeff Dietrich told California Catholic Daily that while he does not criticize those who take tax-exempt status, the L.A. Worker “follows in the footsteps of Dorothy Day, who said, ‘we do not ask permission from the state to do these things. We do them because we are compelled to give witness to God’s Kingdom.’”
Dietrich said that tax exempt status comes with political strings attached, and because of its political activities, the Worker doesn’t want to be tied to the government. Nor to a fund raising board, also required by the Internal Revenue Service for 501(c)(3)s. “There’s no one who tells us what to do except the nine full-time people who live here and our consciences,” said Dietrich. “And that’s a very rare kind of freedom.”
But the Worker has deeper reasons for not becoming 501(c)(3); the Worker is “anarchist.” But Worker anarchism is not the “Ayn Rand, rugged individualist brand or the 19th century bomb-throwing nihilist brand,” said Dietrich. “We are just desirous of making a free witness to God’s Kingdom. And we understand that the kingdoms of the world are in opposition to that.”
The “whole Gospel is about non-power,” said Dietrich. “We’re not to judge because Jesus, the ‘human one,’ comes at the end of the age to do the judging; we’re just supposed to give witness to the kingdom and to follow the example of Jesus who took the path to non-power.”
Dorothy Day, however, didn’t reject all government; she paid local taxes because she “felt that local governments were closer to the people,” said Dietrich. “I asked Dorothy what she meant by ‘anarchist’ and she said she preferred the term communitarian personalist, because the term anarchist is so loaded. But she spoke out vigorously against what she called ‘holy mother the state.’”
The L.A. Worker also pays its property taxes. “I suppose if we were absolute about this, we wouldn’t do that, and then we would lose our property,” said Dietrich.
“I don’t know for sure, and one could say it is not a totally consistent position, but it’s probably as consistent as anyone gets.”