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Conscientious objector

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Conscientious objector

Time to honour the brave who would not fight

Historically, many conscientious objectors have been executed, imprisoned, or otherwise penalized when their beliefs led to actions conflicting with their society's legal system or government. The legal definition and status of conscientious objection has varied over the years and from nation to nation. Religious beliefs were a starting point in many nations for legally granting conscientious objector status.

An early recognition of conscientious objection was granted by William the Silent to the Dutch Mennonites in 1575. They could refuse military service in exchange for a monetary payment.

Formal legislation to exempt objectors from fighting was first granted in mid-18th century Britain following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. In 1757, when the first attempt was made to establish a professional national military reserve, a clause in the Militia Ballot Act allowed Quakers exemption from military service.

In the United States, conscientious objection was permitted from the country's founding, although regulation was left to individual states prior to the introduction of conscription.


Repeal the Act

Fellow citizens:

Conscription is now law in this country of free traditions. Our hard-won liberties have been violated. Conscription means the desecration of principles that we have long held dear; it involves the subordination of civil liberties to military dictation; it imperils the freedom of individual conscience and establishes in our midst that militarism which menaces all social graces and divides the peoples of all nations.

We re-affirm our determined resistance to all that is established by the Act.

We cannot assist in warfare. War, which to us is wrong. War, which the peoples do not seek, will only be made impossible when men, who so believe, remain steadfast to their convictions. Conscience, it is true, has been recognised in the Act, but it has been placed at the mercy of tribunals. We are prepared to answer for our faith before any tribunal, but we cannot accept any exemption that would compel those who hate war to kill by proxy or set them to tasks which would help in the furtherance of war.

We strongly condemn the monstrous assumption by Parliament that a man is deemed to be bound by an oath that he has never taken and forced under an authority he will never acknowledge to perform acts which outrage his deepest convictions.

It is true that the present act applies only to a small section of the community, but a great tradition has been sacrificed. Already there is a clamour for an extension of the act. Admit the principle, and who can stay the march of militarism?

Repeal the Act. That is your only safeguard.

If this be not done, militarism will fasten its iron grip upon our national life and institutions. There will be imposed upon us the very system which statesmen affirm that they set out to overthrow.

What shall it profit the nation if it shall win the war and lose its own soul?

The No-Conscription Fellowship was an organisation made up by members of the Socialist Independent Labour Party and the Quakers. The men who signed the above leaflet were Clifford Allen, Edward Grubb, A Fenner Brockway, W J Chamberlain, W H Ayles, Morgan Jones, A Barratt Brown, John Fletcher, C H Norman and Rev. Leyton Richards. All charged under the Defence of the Realm Act. They were all fined; those who decided not to pay the fine were sent to prison.

Poem by Bruce “Utah” Phillips