Property Rights Foundation of America®
Founded 1994
reprinted from the New York Property Rights Clearinghouse, Vol. 4, No. 2, Spring-Summer 1997

MENNONITE PROPERTY RIGHTS ACTIVIST AND FAMILY HAVE HELPED MANY

Principles of Humility, Self-Sufficiency and Kindness Reign in Lapp Family

But the tax-man and labor law enforcers have other rules

Nathan Lapp is well-known to property rights activists across New York State for his principled leadership in defeating zoning in the Town of Charlotte in the early 1990's . (New York Property Rights Clearinghouse Oct.-Dec. 1995) Citizens from that area of the state meet regularly with him to help each other deal with proposals for unwarranted land-use rules.

His sisters Barbara Lyn Lapp and Rachel B. Lapp are the authors of No Law Against Mercy, which tells the story of their courage and their imprisonment for helping Billy Stefan escape from a boy's home in Bradford, Pennsylvania to be united with his father, who had been charged with child abuse. The sisters were hailed for their heroism, exposing a repressive child welfare bureaucracy.

In 1961, their mother and father Jacob and Barbara Lapp left the Pennsylvania Amish Community where seven generations of their ancestors had farmed. They sustained themselves and their growing family, often working migrant jobs and share cropping as they moved from state to state. Their dream was to own their own farm.

With eleven of their twelve children, the Lapps moved onto a 250-acre farm in Cassadaga, New York, in 1971. As the farm succeeded over the years, the Lapps expanded it to make work for the family as the children grew.

They hired a tax-accountant when they started out as a milk and cattle business and kept records and paid taxes on all the family members' earnings, both on and off the farm. In addition to sharing their surplus with their neighbors, they financed a village school and agricultural research farm for a church mission in Belize, Central America, brought Belizean children to the U.S. for medical treatment, and adopted orphaned children from there.

When milk prices plummeted, they were in debt from the Belize project but rejected any government subsidy because they do not believe in accepting government handouts.

In the mid 1980's they added a retail fruit and vegetable market and began hiring because the new project was labor intensive.

"We filed the proper employment forms, paid quarterly employment taxes, and insured our workers as required by state workers' compensation laws," wrote the Lapp family in a prepared statement this June.

But the record-keeping became "unbearably burdensome." In-laws swapped labor for rent and milk, children came with their fathers to work and traded labor for fruit and vegetables, families traded food or labor in exchange for paying a hospital bill or repairing a broken down car. A police officer's children came with their mother, as did the son of a county legislator. Even the village thief was sent by his mother to the Lapps to improve his character.

Some of the younger workers, many of whom were the children of the Lapp families, were not old enough to work legally; other workers came from the city to spend an afternoon and didn't want to do any paperwork.

Government forms required the Lapps to certify that they "had given a 'true and complete statement of all salaries, wages and earnings,' including 'bonuses and allowances earned by all persons... relatives, casual and part-time employees.' The form specified that any exchanges of 'produce, eggs, milk... and the value of meals and lodging' must be recorded," the Lapp family wrote in their public statement in June.

Then in 1990, Lydia Lapp, the sister in charge of employment who had been having more and more difficulty keeping ever more elaborate records, posted the form on the dining room bulletin board with a note, "The lie."

The Lapp family gathered to discuss whether anyone should sign the form. Later Susan Lapp recalled that they concluded, "If we sign, we would be abandoning the gift that God gave us of a healthy mind to think and act reasonably. We would be strengthening a cruel and repressive government."

One of the things that especially bothered the Lapps was the illegality of bartering. "There is a very special beauty in the age-old practice of bartering," Susan later pointed out.

Jacob Lapp and his family are convinced of the importance of helping children experience responsible work.

"Back in the 1930's era, Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed, we have abolished child labor. It seems he left it up to us to abolish youth idleness," Jacob Lapp told a public gathering in June in Cassadaga. "We believe that teaching children the meaning and value of work and responsibility makes for a happier society."

The family was not protesting the payment of taxes. Since they moved to their Cassadaga farm, they have paid in school and property taxes more than ten times the purchase price of the farm. In the 19 years they filed income tax forms they sometimes received more in refund checks than they paid out. They returned or did not cash the checks. The older members of the family refund their social security checks. They paid their own hospital bills, refused disability checks for handicapped family members and educated their children themselves.

The IRS made it clear to the Lapps that they could lose their farm or go to jail.

The New York Times noted on June 29 ("Their Honesty Could be Costly Policy" by Evelyn Nieves) that "Jacob Lapp, 70, and Barbara Lapp, 67, were due in United States District Court in Buffalo to explain why they are risking their farms by not filing tax returns."

The Lapps "do not believe in the Court system," The Times observed. "They say they could not in good conscience participate in a corrupt system that treats the rich one way and the poor another. They did not show up."

"We value our farm, and love our togetherness. But we do not believe this is too great a sacrifice for the freedom of heart in knowing that we can face God and man with this saying, 'We have lived the truth,' " the family statement reads.

Jacob Lapp's words to the gathering in June were a blunt defense of freedom, "Someone's consistently looking over my shoulder, breathing ugly threats down my neck. He demands that I hand over to him in detail all records of my financial transactions.

"Worse yet, he wants to know if I'm hiring anyone, how much I'm paying him, how old he is, what he's doing, how many hours each day, and on and on. I think it's none of his business."

Lapp called for "a humane government."

"Until then, the productive sector of society will continue to walk around on their knees, saying 'Daddy, may I.' "

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