Peacebuilders Camp at Koinonia Farm

Freedom of thought, conscience, and religion

Campers line up to show what they think of moral questions.
Campers line up to show what they think about moral questions.

“Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion,” says Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It’s a right that people in the United States and many other nations pretty much take for granted. We are free to decide what’s right and wrong based on what our conscience or our religion tells us. But identifying exactly how that freedom translates into behavior can be difficult.

Thursday morning, campers had the chance to consider how their consciences guide them. They were asked to take their place along a spectrum between “OK” and “Not OK” in response to several different issues. Is hunting for sport OK or not OK? How about buying bottled water? Serving in the military? Using recreational drugs? Lively discussion ensued as campers and staff alike justified their positions on the spectrum.

Devin and Jorryn engage CO Al Geiger in conversation.
Devin and Jorryn engage CO Al Geiger in conversation.

Later in the morning, we listened as Al Geiger, a conscientious objector from the Korean War era, shared his story. He led us to consider that in any conflict, there’s a third option besides running away and fighting back. After lunch, three different facilitators led discussions having to do with freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. Sarah Thompson, executive director of Christian Peacemaker Teams and our guest at camp all this week, encouraged campers to think about how people can navigate differences with each other in their conscience or religion. Asma Elhuni shared her perspectives as a Muslim feminist and challenged campers to examine their own perceptions of Islam. Willie Hager from Veterans for Peace in Jacksonville, FL, dealt with the issue of military recruitment and admonished campers who are considering military service to make sure they are getting truthful information during the recruitment process.

Over dinner, campers interviewed Koinonia community members, asking them what decisions they have made based on their conscience or religion. Several campers found themselves engaged in interesting and inspiring discussions as they got to know our hosts at Koinonia on a deeper level.

Asma Elhuni shares with campers some of the struggles Muslims in the U.S. face today.
Asma Elhuni shares with campers some of the struggles Muslims in the U.S. face today.

It was a day of lots of thinking, discussion, and sharing of perspectives. The themes that campers were introduced to are sure to come up again and again as they listen to the news, interact with people of other religions, and consider their own choices and options for the future. Campers are now better equipped to thoughtfully exercise their precious freedoms of thought, conscience, and religion as they tackle these issues and decisions.

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