If life on this planet is to thrive and if human beings are to survive and pass on a hopeful future to our grandchildren, we must actively explore, discuss and exercise our consciences.
Conscience is an inward knowledge of right and wrong, along with a compulsion to do what’s right. It requires judgment and action. Sometimes conscience appears in an instant of clarity, but often it grows as we pay attention to it and develop it. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reads: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” More than just the right, we have the responsibility and the necessity if we wish to be self-governing and alive.
People, not corporations (as legal entities), have conscience. Corporations are not people and should not have personhood under the law or the power of human rights without the conscience to exercise them (see POCLAD.org).
Step 1: A movement of conscience requires us to learn to listen to and act on our consciences to:
- See the central role of conscience in our lives at home, work, community and society.
- Listen to our consciences, share them with others and seek ways to shape our actions based on conscience.
- Test our discernment of conscience and right action with others committed to conscience.
- Take action based on our consciences and publish the results.
One of the most prominent historic public expressions of conscience is conscientious objection to war by those who believe war does not engender healthy societies or increase our security, but rather perpetuates violence, prejudice, multigenerational trauma and revenge. Our country needs a way to honor this belief and capture the energy behind it to help build real security at home. We need a national registry of conscientious objectors, reviewed by their local review boards to ensure they meet the legal standard of conscientious objection, and national service for defense and security that does not employ violence and coercion but rather friendship, love, integrity, compassionate justice, and conscientious human service. Not just young males of draft age, but every person in this country who pays taxes, invests funds, purchases products, seeks education, travel or challenging employment opportunities, should ask him or her self, “Am I a conscientious objector to war?” and act accordingly.
Step 2: Each adult U.S. citizen should consider whether participation in the premeditated use of systematic killing of other human beings for political ends (war) violates his or her conscience. (A conscientious objector to war does not necessarily abdicate the human right to physical self-defense in the face of immediate physical threat to self, family or community.) If so, the person should:
- Write a statement of conscience (see guidelines and seek a counselor to help you).
- Request three to five letters of recommendation from community members testifying to the fact that this belief is sincerely and deeply held (not that it’s correct, but that it’s sincere). Consider asking respected community leaders who may disagree with you, but can attest to your sincerity.
- Copy relevant documents: church membership, training, publications, and other evidence of how it affects your life.
This file should then be shared with the local newspaper, county legislature, review board, Congressional representatives and senators, and the Internal Revenue Service. When three to five people have completed their file, deliver the file personally to your representatives and senators, at least to their aides (educating aides is very worthwhile). Consider withholding a nominal amount, the military portion, or all of one’s income taxes and paying them to worthy causes or to an escrow account. Support the Peace Tax Fund. Request a national registry of conscientious objectors.
Step 3: Publicly discuss and explore what type of service and witness in the world builds peace and security and how. Engage in that service and witness in some way yourself or support someone who does. Develop opportunities for people-to-people visitation especially with peoples in regions of armed conflict, post-conflict or potential conflict. Our lives will go better if we find ways to act on what we believe.
Step 4: Initiate other community acts based on your conscience.