Monday, October 13, 2003

The insertion of a single word will do it

Let it stand that "Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of TRUE speech..." A couple months ago, I read about Irwin Schiff, a colorful character most notable for the insistent position that the federal income tax is merely voluntary. He's published many books and given many lectures on the subject. He's also gone to jail twice for tax evasion. But early this year, a Nevada district court issued a very limiting restraining order (pdf) against Schiff. The court order forbids Schiff from distributing his latest book, Federal Mafia: How the Government Illegally Imposes and Unlawfully Collects Income Taxes. It also forbids him from speaking publicly about the income tax and from helping anyone prepare a return. (Of those three requirements, only the last, I think, is conceivably constitutional.) Most shockingly of all, the order requires Schiff to turn over the names of all his previous customers to the federal government. Schiff refused to turn over the names and was facing contempt of court and more jail time when the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stayed the order and is now planning to consider (1) whether Schiff can be required to turn over four years' worth of customers' names, and (2) whether a federal judge can ban the sale of the book. Apparently, in the meantime, the book is available for sale once again. For the curious, check out Schiff's horrible web site, with lots of grandiose rhetoric (as well as the first chapter of the book available for download). I really feel like this is one of those issues where the clearest and most convincing argument for the correct viewpoint is a statement of the facts. Schiff believes, or at least alleges to believe, that the IRS code has no language mandating the payment of U.S. federal income tax. He's written numerous books explaining the reasoning behind his beliefs, and outlining a method to avoid paying them. The government disagrees with Schiff's legal theory. The injunction, linked above, explains the government's rationale for its position that U.S. citizens are legally required to pay income taxes. That's really about all it does. Apparently, Schiff is prohibited from expressing his position because it is false. Which, of course, it surely is -- I'm not trying to argue that the guy isn't a crackpot. But since when does the U.S. government prevent private citizens from expressing false beliefs?

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