FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE

From The Tribunal of April 6 1916

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

The following letter appeared in the “Daily News”, the “Daily Chronicle,” and the “Manchester Guardian,” on March 30th:

Sir,- This country entered into the war in the belief that it was a war on behalf of freedom. We believe that it is right to fight for such a cause, but we desire to be true to the cause while we fight for it. Those who were convinced that the national need justified the use of some form of compulsion to military service recognised the inalienable right of all men to freedom of conscience, and the right to claim and to obtain exemption from combatant service, and in some cases total exemption, was by the Military Service Act given to bona fide conscientious objectors to war.

No one will have any sympathy with men who would shelter themselves under a pretence of conscientious scruples, and all will admit the necessity for careful examination. Some of the applicants are doubtless vexatious persons. The duty of the Tribunals is an arduous and delicate one. While fully recognising the difficulties of the situation, we cannot but fear that there is foundation for the charge that in many cases the examination has not been conducted with the fairness and respect for sincerely held opinions, which Englishmen demand and respect. There is considerable evidence of brow-beating, and of a disposition to treat with scorn the very idea of conscientious objection. Conscience, however mistaken, ought not to be the subject for public ridicule.

We desire to affirm our conviction that the preservation of freedom of conscience is a vital religious principle.

(Signed) D.S. Cairns; G. Campbell Morgan; J. Clifford; A. Clutton Brock; J. Monro Gibson; R.F. Horton; Albert Mansbridge; C. Oxon; W.B. Selbie; W. Temple; Edward Winton.

April 6th 1916

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