|Silent protestors outside the Friends Meeting House|
I met Holly Wallis, Parliamentary Officer for Conscience, who told me, ‘We are campaigning for a change in the law, so that people with a conscientious objection to war can have the part of their income tax currently spent on military activity – about 6% - spent on peacebuilding and conflict prevention instead.’
'2016 is a big year for Conscience, as we are introducing a bill into parliament on the centenary of the Military Service Act of 1916. This act saw the first limited right of conscientious objection to military service. We are introducing our Bill on the foundation that the rights of conscientious objectors are not yet fully recognised.’In my research for the WW1 Exhibition at Englesea Brook Museum, I have discovered the stories of many Methodists who were Conscientious Objectors. Their courage to stand up for what they believed, even when it led to persecution and imprisonment, is a real inspiration. Holly told me, ‘I myself am a Quaker, and understand the daily need to bear witness to my faith by not being complicit in war. This was the driving force behind getting involved in this campaign myself and actively challenging the system that forces me to pay for others to kill on my behalf, in my name.’
How can we offer support?
- Distribute WW1 application for exemption forms. These are replicas of the WW1 form which conscientious objectors had to fill out to apply for exemption to military service, in the context of the 2016 Act. The idea is to get people to fill in the forms, saying why they would not pay for deliberate killing if they had the option, thus replicating the 1916 ‘statement of conscience’ that men had to deliver at tribunals to prove themselves genuine conscientious objectors. The forms will be used in support of the 2016 Taxes for Peace Bill.
- Invite somebody from Conscience to give a talk at your conference or church.
- Find out more at http://www.conscienceonline.org.uk/. (You can read Holly's account of our meeting at the Labour Party Conference.)
At Conference this year, we adopted the following notice of motion.
Christians have long grappled with questions of war, peace and what their faith has to say on each.2016 marks 100 years since conscription was introduced in the United Kingdom, and with it 100 years since the right to Conscientious Objection was enshrined in law.
That the anniversary provides an opportunity to give thanks for the Christian men and women, including many Methodists, throughout the ages who have been challenged by faith to speak out against war, instead seeking to create a culture of peace.The Conference directs the Methodist Council to engage the support of relevant connexional staff and work with Christian Peace Organisations to hold a web-streamed act of worship in February 2016 to mark 100 years since the right to conscientious objection was enshrined in law.
Perhaps there are some links to be made?