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The 2003 Amish Series, presents some fascinating stories about three Amish men, each a unique individual. The Amish are not "cookie cutter" people and, while these stories may be unusual, they show the range of characters and experiences in the world of the Amish. In these three stories, we meet a man struggling with his Amish identity, another who travels around the world, and one who ends up in a national controversy with the U.S. government.  As you read each manís story, you will learn a lot about Amish life, its joys and challenges. To read each man's story, see below...

1) CLICK here for The True Story of Yonie Kauffman, Parts 1 & 2


2) CLICK here for the story of Jonathan B. Fisher, "An Amishman Travels the Globe", Parts 1-3


3) BELOW read about the Amishman who confronted the IRS, Valentine Byler...

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Valentine Byler vs. the U.S. Government

by Brad Igou 

Part 1

While Social Security was called a tax and administered by the IRS beginning in the 1950ís, it was also clearly described as a form of old age and survivors insurance. A 1961 IRS press release recognized the Amish stance that "Social Security payments, in their opinion, are insurance premiums and not taxes. They, therefore, will not pay the Ďpremiumí nor accept any of the benefits."

But it was one case that brought the situation into the public eye. That case would be the collection of payments from Valentine Byler, an Amish farmer living near New Wilmington, in western Pennsylvania. By 1959, Valentine Byler owed four years of Social Security taxes. The IRS added the interest owed and came up with a total of $308.96.

Byler explained that his religion forbid paying insurance. When he was told that this was a mere technicality and that it was indeed a tax, he apparently replied, "Doesnít the title say Old Age, Survivors and Disability Insurance?"

The IRS wanted to put a levy on Valentineís bank account, but he had none. In 1960, after refusing a summons to appear in court, he was cited for contempt and brought to the Pittsburgh U.S. District Court. According to a Readerís Digest article, the judge "angrily demanded of the IRS agents, ĎDonít you have anything better to do than to take a peaceful man off his farm and drag him into court?í " The case was dismissed.

But the IRS was undaunted and, according to its own press release, this is what happened next on April 18, 1961...

Since Mr. Byler had no bank account against which to levy for the tax due, it was decided as a last desperate measure to resort to seizure and sale of personal property.

It was then determined that Mr. Byler had a total of six horses, so it was decided to seize three in order to satisfy the tax indebtedness. The three horses were sold May 1, 1961 at public auction for $460. Of this amount, $308.96 represented the tax due and $113.15 represented the expenses of the auction sale, including feed for the horses, leaving a surplus of $37.89 which was returned to the taxpayer.

The Byler case, like all others in the same category, presents an unpleasant and difficult task for the Internal Revenue Service... We have no other choice under the law.

Valentine was literally in his field with his team of horses doing some work prior to spring plowing when his horses were seized. He needed these horses to prepare his fields, do his planting, reap the harvest, and earn his living. The harnesses were also taken and included in the sale. According to a book describing the auction, The Amish in Court, no Amish came to bid on the horses and, due to a lack of bidders, they went for a good price, with the harnesses "thrown in" by the auctioneer. (Valentine borrowed his neighborís horses to finish his plowing.)

Immediately after the seizure and sale, the Pittsburgh IRS Chief of Collections responded that he was unaware of the plowing situation. "Plowing never occurred to me. I live in an apartment." He was furthermore quoted as saying, "We donít ask people their race or religion when we administer the tax laws. People have no right to use their religion as an excuse not to pay taxes."

The newspapers in America basically responded in favor of the Amishman. The New York Herald Tribune, under the headline "Welfarism Gone Mad," stated in part:

The majesty and might of the Federal government have now been marshaled against Valentine Y. Byler. His horses --- which, since Amish rules forbid the use of tractors, represent his means of livelihood --- have been seized and sold at auction.

What kind of "welfare" is it that takes a farmerís horses away at spring plowing time in order to dragoon a whole community into a Ďbenefití scheme it neither needs nor wants, and which offends its deeply held religious scruples?

The Ledger-Star in Norfolk, Virginia wrote this response:

When the last Amish buggy has disappeared from the dusty by-road, or has been sold like Valentine Bylerís three plow horses, it will mark more than the passing of a sect who were overwhelmed by time and change. It will mark also a milestone in the passing of freedom --- the freedom of people to live their lives undisturbed by their government so long as they lived disturbing no others. It was a freedom the country once thought important.

Between 1961 and 1963, Valentine received over 40 letters at his home, as people read about his plight. Some even sent money. These letters came from a wide range of Americans, and reflected social and political attitudes of the time. In the next issue, we will present some of these letters, and conclude our story of Valentineís clash with the IRS.

Part 2

Social Security was called a tax and administered by the IRS beginning in the 1950ís. The Amish recognized it as a form of insurance, and refused to pay the "premiums" or accept the benefits.

When an Amish farmer, Valentine Byler, living near New Wilmington in western Pennsylvania, refused to pay, he became a sort of "test case" for the federal government. By 1959, he owed four years of Social Security taxes which, with interest, totaled $308.96.

Since he had no bank account against which the IRS could levy the tax due, it was decided to seize and sell some of his personal property. Valentine was literally in his field with his team of horses doing some work prior to spring plowing when his horses were taken. He needed these horses to prepare his fields, do his planting, reap the harvest, and earn his living.

Between 1961 and 1963, Valentine received over 40 letters at his home, as people read about his plight in the media. Some even sent money. These letters came from a wide range of Americans, and reflected social and political attitudes of the time. Since none of these letters have ever been published in book form, I want to include selections from a few of them in this issue...

From Dallas, Texas: May I congratulate you on having the intestinal fortitude to stand up for your beliefs. While I am aware that your action stemmed from a love of your religion rather than from defiance, I hope that your example may serve to point out to some of us just how far our benevolent Government will go to reach its goal of making dependents of us all. There seems to be no place for a person who asks merely to be left alone, and to provide for himself and his family

From New Wilmington, Pennsylvania: Please accept this as a small token ($5) toward the "resistance of the tyranny of the majority." I only wish that I could do more but, being a college student, my funds are limited.

From a minister in National City, California: We have always prided ourselves on having absolute separation of Church and State, absolute freedom in Religion, and genuine respect for every manís conscience here in these United States. I am sincerely sorry this has happened. I hope that the Lord leads you out of this situation well.

From a doctor in Dallas, Texas: Your views and beliefs should be respected. Our great nation was built on principles and premises you adhere to. We as a country and a nation have come a long way from the old time virtues of simplicity, hard work, frugality, and self reliance.

From Elk City, Oklahoma: We have been guilty of letting little things seemingly creep in and have destroyed the quality of togetherness which you folk still possess. The idea that eventually we will all be taken care of by the government simply takes the initiative away from folks. To my knowledge you are the only people to have the admirable regard you have for no divorce, lack of juvenile delinquency, and caring for the aged. I think we could all learn a great deal from you folk.

From Amsterdam, New York: The only point of issue is that if there are no cases of old age need in your community, then you should not have to pay social security tax. But if there are, you should and must. It is simple as all that.

From Washington, DC: Many of us do not like the apparent over-reaching power of "Caesarís Might." Which will last longer --- trust in God or trust in money? The Amish are wise enough to answer this one. I dare say the Amish way, to trust in God and menís good will, will last longer than any monetary system.

From Dickinson, Texas: Your courageous stand for your religious principles is to be commended. Your action in support of freedom is action in defense of the freedom of all of us.

The Amish held meetings with various federal officials after the incident. In the end, it was decided the Amish would seek an exemption based on the First Amendment. The IRS would stop further seizures until the case was settled. It took about five years of meetings and negotiations until the matter was resolved in the 1965 Medicare bill approved by Congress. Somewhere in the 138-page document was a clause exempting the Amish from paying Social Security. It also cancelled the $250,000 in outstanding payments of about 15,000 Amish.

What then became of Valentine Byler, the simple Amish farmer who had suddenly been thrust into the national spotlight? According to Wayne Fisher in his book The Amish in CourtÖ

On May 3, 1965, Mr. Byler fell from a grain drill while working in his field and broke his neck. While he lay very sick in a hospital bed in the front room of his farmhouse, the news of the passage of the bill for which he had become a symbol, brought only a flicker of a smile from his face framed within his red beard.

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For the complete story of this controversy and its resolution, click here for 

"Pay Unto Caesar" --- THE AMISH & SOCIAL SECURITY 


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