For Quakers, Human Rights are a natural extension of the belief in ‘that of God in everyone’. A Quaker understanding of human rights goes back to the seventeenth century and is rooted in the testimony to equality.
A fundamental belief in the equality of all people has led Quakers to campaign actively against racism in many parts of the world.
Anti-Slavery in Britain
Quakers were prominent in the abolition of the slave trade and in the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire. Today many Quakers work actively against modern forms of slavery.
Anti-Slavery in North America
In 1688 Quakers in Philadelphia stated that slavery was immoral. Eliminating it among Quakers was the first priority, followed by full abolition, finally achieved in 1865. Today many Quakers work actively against modern forms of slavery.
Anti-Slavery in the modern world
Historic slavery was officially abolished in the 19th century. In the 20th century Quakers were part of a growing awareness of modern forms of slavery, and began to campaign against these.
The Peace Testimony has led many (though not all) Quakers to refuse to bear arms or to play any part in military action. Many conscientious objectors have undertaken alternative forms of service during wartime, and others have been imprisoned.
Freedom of Conscience
For Quakers, the belief that there is ‘that of God in everyone’ leads to a deep conviction that conscience should not be coerced. Freedom of worship, freedom of speech, and conscientious objection are aspects of particular concern to Friends.
Immigration and Refugees
Quakers believe that the testimony to equality should determine our treatment of migrants and asylum seekers. They have worked with refugees fleeing conflict or persecution, and have campaigned for fair treatment for migrants and refugees.
Quakers and Sexuality
Quaker recognition that there is that of that of God in everyone has led them at times to challenge conventional thinking about personal relationships and sexual ethics.
Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Quakers have a long history of arguing for the rights of indigenous people. Quaker groups in Canada, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Bolivia and elsewhere work with indigenous groups in support of their human rights.
Rights of the Child
Children were seen from the outset as having ‘something of God’ within them, which should be respected and nurtured. They are entitled to education and to be heard, and to freedom from exploitation and ill treatment in the workplace and the home.
Rights of Women
The notion that ‘God in every man’ applies equally to women stems from the earliest days of Quakerism. Equal treatment for women was seen to follow from this belief, both among Friends and in wider society. Quakers have worked towards this in many different contexts.
Testimonies and Human Rights
For Quakers, Human Rights are the secular counterpart to the religious recognition of that of God in everyone. Conscience should not be coerced, and all should be treated equally.
The belief in equality led Quakers to campaign against slavery, and to aspire to good treatment of anyone who worked in a Quaker enterprise. As well as workplace conditions, many were also concerned with general welfare. QUNO works at the UN towards international labour standards.
AFSC and Ending Discrimination
Ending discrimination is a key concern for the American Friends Service Committee. The AFSC believes that all forms of discrimination are barriers to building a just and peaceful world. AFSC works with communities in the U.S. and across the globe to foster diversity, inclusion, and equality.
Alice Paul (1885-1977) was an American Quaker campaigner for women’s suffrage. She led the Silent Sentinels – a peaceful protest outside the White House calling for women’s votes – and was jailed. After going on hunger strike to protest at conditions there, she was put on a psychopathic ward and force fed.
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) was founded in 1917. It works with many partners, in the US and around the world, on conflict resolution and peacebuilding, alongside issues of economic, social and criminal justice. AFSC received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947, jointly with its British counterpart (then called the Friends Service Council).
Quakers were instrumental in setting up Amnesty International, in 1962. In 1961, Quaker Eric Baker wrote a newspaper article calling for the amnesty of all political prisoners. This began a campaign, involving many others, that culminated in the founding of Amnesty the following year.
Ann Preston (1813-1872) was a pioneering American woman doctor and founder of Pennsylvania’s Women’s Hospital. She was a tireless and effective campaigner for the rights of women to become doctors.
Anne Knight (1786 - 1862) was an abolitionist and a feminist. She was impatient with the slow progress being made with abolishing slavery, and was vehemently against any compensation for slave owners. She campaigned for universal suffrage in Britain, so that women could vote.
Anthony Benezet (1713 – 1784) was an educational reformer and influential abolitionist who did much for the beginning of free education for African Americans.
Bayard Rustin (1912-1987) was a black Civil Rights activist, a close associate of Martin Luther King, and an advocate of gay and lesbian rights, and a Quaker.
Boycotting Goods Produced by Slaves
Quakers were at the forefront of the movement to boycott goods produced by slave labour. In England they were very active in the boycott of sugar from the West Indies. The "Free Produce Movement" was promininent in America. It was hoped that these actions would make people realise that slavery should be abolished.
Britain, Ireland and America in the Seventeenth Century, and the Beginnings of Quakerism
The seventeenth century was a turbulent time in Britain and Ireland, with civil war and great political, religious, and social change. It was also the century when British colonisation of North America and the Caribbean took off, and the transatlantic slave trade with it. This was the context in which Quakerism began.
British Quakers in Parliament in the Nineteenth Century
Quakers were able to enter Parliament from 1832, and in the rest of the nineteenth century there was a disproportionally large number of Quaker MPs They all defended their convictions concerning social issues vigorously but were not always popular with their fellow Members of Parliament.
Cyrus Pringle (1838 - 1911) was a Quaker botanist for most of his adult life. However as a young man he was caught up in the American Civil War, and refused to fight because of his Quaker principles. He suffered greatly for this.
Elizabeth Heyrick was influential both in Britain and in the United States in the campaign for the Abolition of Slavery. She was also a feminist and philanthopist.
Fidele lived with HIV himself from 2002 until his death in 2012. He founded, and led, INACOS, the Friends programme in Rwanda. It works to help everyone affected by HIV and AIDS. In 2008 he helped establish a global advocacy committee, on behalf of Friends worldwide.
Chocolate and cocoa maker in Birmingham. England. He was also a philanthropist and social reformer.
George Fox (1624 – 91), founder of the Society of Friends (Quakers) was born and grew up in England in the turbulent times leading up to the Civil War. He travelled to Holland and Germany and to North America and the Caribbean, as well as all over Britain and Ireland. Quakers were persecuted for most of his adult life, but he lived to see freedom of religion established in Britain.
Hendrik van der Merwe
Hendrik van der Merwe was a South African Quaker academic and peacemaker. For 27 years, he was head of the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the University of Cape Town and was the founding president of the South African Association for Conflict Intervention.
INACOS – combating HIV/AIDS in Rwanda
INACOS (Initiative des Amis Combattant la SIDA) is the Friends Church HIV and AIDS programme in Rwanda. It was founded in 2002 by Quakers Fidele Nsengiyumva and his wife Antoinette Runiga, both HIV positive themselves.
Indigenous Affairs Committee in Canada (QIAC)
The Canadian Friends Service Committee set this up in 1974, in response to an armed confrontation between the Ojibway people and the Canadian government. The initial aim was to enable concerns to be heard and resolved in a nonviolent way. Since then QIAC has worked on many other issues to do with the human rights of indigenous peoples in Canada.
John Cadbury (1801-89) founded the Cadbury chocolate business. He saw many social problems around him, and helped to alleviate them. He and his brother conceived the idea of a model village for their workers, and John's sons, George and Richard, brought this dream to fruition at Bournville.
Levi Coffin (October 28, 1798 – September 16, 1877) was an American Quaker, abolitionist, and businessman. Coffin was deeply involved in the Underground Railroad in Indiana and Ohio and his home is often called "Grand Central Station of the Underground Railroad". He was nicknamed "President of the Underground Railroad" because of the thousands of slaves that are reported to have passed through his care while escaping their masters.
Lucretia Mott campaigned vigorously against slavery. She founded the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society, and spoke publicly on many occasions, despite much opposition. She and her husband sheltered many runaway slaves in their home, and boycotted items produced by slave labour. She was also a strong proponent of women's rights, and co-organised the first women's rights convention in the US, in 1848.
Margaret Fell or Margaret Fox (c. 1614 - 23 April 1702) a founder of the Religious Society of Friends, is often called the "mother of Quakerism". Her home at Swarthmoor Hall in the Lake District was a key hub for the first Quakers, and she was one of the 'Valiant Sixty' early Quaker preachers and missionaries.
Mary Fisher was one of the first Quaker missionaries – the Valiant Sixty. As well as preaching in England she made two journeys overseas, one to Boston, in North America, and the other to Turkey, where she visited the Ottoman Emperor, Sultan Mehmet IV.
Mary Penington became a Quaker in 1658, along with her second husband Isaac. She had long been searching for a religious understanding that felt right to her and wrote about her quest. Like many early Friends much of the property was confiscated, but her excellent management saw them through. capable manager. Her daughter from her first marriage was Gulielma Springett, who later married William Penn.
Nancy Meek Pocock
Nancy Pocock was a Canadian Quaker and Peace Activist whose home in Toronto became a shelter for refugees for over three decades. In 1987, the United Nations Association in Canada awarded her the Pearson Medal of Peace for her work in disarmament, development and feminism.
Nozizwe Madlala-Routledge, (1952- ) is perhaps the only Quaker and pacifist to have found themselves second in command of their country’s defence forces. She is a longstanding member of the ANC, and served as an MP and later in the Ministries of Defence and Health. She currently campaigns against the sex-trafficking of women.
Prisoners of Conscience
Many Quakers over the centuries have taken the consequences of holding to their principles, even when this meant breaking the law.This taught them a great deal about prison conditions. This experience informed both their faith and their later actions. Some Quakers have been imprisoned for criminal offences, and some offenders have become Quakers during their sentences.
QSA - Supporting Indigenous Communities in Australia
Since its establishment, Quaker Service Australia has endeavoured to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia to implement projects that are endorsed by and will benefit their local community. As the relationship between Australian indigenous and settler communities has changes, so has the nature of the projects undertaken.
Quaker Action Against Torture
Since the publication of Amnesty International’s first report on torture in 1973, Quakers around the world have declared themselves utterly opposed to the use of torture in any circumstances. Through groups such as Q-CAT in the UK and QUIT in the USA, they continue to campaign against its use and seek to help its victims.
Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network (QARN)
In the UK, the Quaker Asylum and Refugee Network has worked on behalf of Refugees and Asylum Seekers since 2006, providing support, practical help and advocacy. They campaign nationally on the issues of indefinite detention of asylum seekers, detention of children and destitution.
Quakers against racism: Catherine Impey and the Anti-Caste Journal
Anti-Caste was Britain’s first anti-racist journal. It was published from 1888 to 1895 by Catherine Impey (1847–1923), a Quaker woman from Somerset. It included reports on anti-lynching campaigns in the southern states of America, and the work of prominent African American campaigners, as well as confronting issues of racism within the British Empire.
Quakers and the American Women’s Suffrage Movement
The Women’s Suffrage Movement in the USA is widely considered to date from the First Women’s Rights Convention, held in Seneca Falls, New York State in 1848. This meeting was instigated by five women who had been closely involved in the abolition of slavery, all but one of whom were Quakers. In 1920, it was the actions and treatment of another Quaker woman – Alice Paul – which led at last to the passing of a Women’s Suffrage Bill by the US Congress.
Quakers and the Boer War
Quakers were vociferous before, during and after the Boer War, defending the rights of the Black African population, deploring the treatment of Boer women and children and expressing concern after the war for the rights and welfare of non-whites. They raised money and provided clothing for those interned in concentration camps, and afterwards helped to return looted Boer Bibles.
Quakers in colonial Pennsylvania
(1681 - 1783) William Penn established Pennsylvania as a Holy Experiment enshrining Quaker principles of religious and political liberty. Quakers and many others flocked to the colony, and it prospered. Quakers were soon in a minority, but they played a prominent part in colonial public life.
Quakers in South Africa
Quakers in South Africa have always been a small group, but with an influence that far outstrips their size. Today they are still actively concerned with justice, peacemaking, development, education and political activism.
Quakers in the Sanctuary Movement
Between 1980 and 1991, nearly one million Central Americans fled political repression and violence in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua and sought asylum in the US. For much of that time, however, asylum was refused. Founded in 1980 by two Quakers and a Presbyterian minister from Tucson Arizona, the Sanctuary Movement provided legal, financial and material aid to these refugees.
Quäkerspeisung (Quaker feeding)
Quakers working in Germany during and after the First World War described children as desperately malnourished. British and American Quakers, supported by thousands of German volunteers, set up feeding centres across Germany. At its height in 1921, the Quäkerspeisung (Quaker feeding) programme provided food for one million children a day.
QUNO and Human Rights
One facet of the work of the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) is to strengthen the promotion and protection of human rights through the United Nations.
QUNO: Quaker United Nations Office
Quakers/Friends have been active behind the scenes at the United Nations from the beginning, and in the League of Nations before that. Each of the two main UN centres - New York and Geneva – has a Quaker House, staffed by a small team. They listen, they contribute, and they facilitate quiet dialogue and solution building, especially with regard to peace, justice and human rights.
Ruth Rittenhouse Morris
Ruth Rittenhouse Morris (1933-2001) was a Canadian Friend who was one of the world’s leading advocates for prison abolition.
The Holy Experiment, in Pennsylvania
The "Holy Experiment" is how William Penn described his plans for Pennsylvania, which he founded in 1682. Penn planned to put all his Quaker principles into practice here, something that it was impossible to achieve in England at the time. Everyone would be able to live as they wished within the law, and worship as they chose.
Thomas Clarkson, although not a Quaker, was greatly influenced by them in his work for the abolition of the slave trade. He was a member of the Committee for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
The Underground Railroad is a term used from about the 1840s to describe an informal network of secret routes and safe houses used by fugitive slaves in the United States of America on their journey north to “Free States” or Canada. It spanned twenty-nine states, as well as Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. Quakers played an active part in it, along with many others.
Ursula Franklin was a Canadian physicist, pacifist, feminist and Quaker. Her particular concerns are women’s rights, economic justice and for the environment.
William Penn (1644 –1718) was born in London, and became a Quaker as a young man. He was imprisoned several times for his faith, but used that time to develop his Quaker thought and to write influential books. He spent most of his life in England and Ireland, but he also had a very significant four years in colonial North America, where he founded Pennsylvania, guaranteeing religious freedom for all.
William Tuke was born in York on 24 March 1732, into a leading Quaker family. He entered the family tea and coffee merchant business at an early age. He was able to devote much time to the pursuit of philanthropy. He is best remembered for founding The Retreat, in York, where he introduced humane and enlightened modes of treatment for the mentally ill.
Work on crime and justice through international Quaker organisations
There are three international agencies involved. Two work at the level of the UN, and the third works at the level of the European Union. The three agencies collaborate extensively in seeking to inform and influence international guidelines on crime and justice matters.