Testimonies and Human Rights
For Quakers, Human Rights are the secular counterpart to the religious recognition of that of God in everyone.
This awareness of God in every human being leads to a deep belief that conscience should not be coerced. And if conscience is not to be coerced, then there must be freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and association, the right to a fair trial, the right not to be tortured.
This same awareness of God in everyone also leads to a belief in the equality of all people, regardless of sex, race or creed. It led early Friends like William Tuke to improve the conditions of care for the mentally ill, and it led to widespread Quaker involvement in campaigns against slavery and the slave trade. It continues to challenges Friends to look for the fundamental humanity in prisoners and ex-offenders and others whose choices in life may challenge our own beliefs.
The Testimony of Integrity is closely related to the belief in freedom of conscience. It exhorts us to stand by what we believe, and to ‘speak truth to power’, regardless of the consequences, and to maintain the right of others to do the same. It also holds Friends to a high standard of ‘fair dealings’ – including the principle that workers are entitled to a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. It led early Friends like Joseph Rowntree and George Cadbury to raise the living standards for their workers, and today encourages Friends to support Fair Trade initiatives around the world.
The Peace Testimony reminds us that war is a fundamental cause of suffering and inequality. As well as directly threatening the right to life, liberty and security of person, it has led to more than 40 million people worldwide being displaced from their homes, and destroyed basic standards of living for many more. It undermines the most basic tenets of the rights of the child. For this reason, many Quakers are conscientious objectors who will not fight, though they have often exposed themselves to the dangers of war through such organisations as the Friends Ambulance Unit. Many have also been involved in relief efforts during and after wars around the world.
The Quaker testimonies of simplicity and stewardship are rooted in an understanding that supporting the rights of others may at times entail placing voluntary curbs upon our own ‘rights’. Simplicity involves recognising that the planet’s resources are limited and that our own standard of living may sometimes be achieved at the expense of others. In order to ensure a fair standard of living for all, those of us in the wealthier western world sometimes need to challenge the way we live. Likewise, in order to sustain those limited resources for future generations, we need to recognise our role as stewards of the planet, husbanding its resources and recognising the potential we have to harm our environment.