Peace and Good Behavior: A Minor Testimony?

In January 1655 a number of the most effective Quaker preachers came to the English Puritan town of Banbury, where they met strong opposition. Prominent among the Quaker preachers were Ann Audland and her companion Jane Waugh. Ann Audland was the wife of John Audland, one of the Valiant 60, the group selected to spread the word about the new religion. Jane Waugh was a serving maid to John Camm, an early Quaker convert, and his wife. She was illiterate, but is noted as a fiery preacher.

Ann Audland’s preaching offended the parish clergyman. As a result, she and Jane Waugh were arrested and charged with blasphemy. In 17th-century England, blasphemy, a religious matter, was an offense against the state because of the close relation of the state with the church. The women were released on bail and consequently spent several months in the vicinity preaching before coming to trial. Then, to the chagrin of the judge, the jury acquitted them. The court thereupon required that they pay a bond to ensure future good behavior, a procedure established in the common law and in statutes under Edward I and Edward III. Both women refused. As a result they spent six months in a foul jail before being released, without abandoning their witness. Ann Audland wrote to Margaret Fell from her prison cell, "This is indeed a place of joy, and my soul doth rejoice in the Lord. I continue a prisoner in Banbury but I witness freedom in the Lord."

Richard Farnsworth, another Quaker preacher during this period, attended the trial, and when he offended the authorities, he too was imprisoned. He refused to pay the jailer’s fees and was held for eight months before being released. Time in prison, jailer’s fees, and requiring oaths of allegiance were attempts to silence religious expression.

Blasphemy is no longer a civil court matter, but oaths are still required as a condition of employment by state institutions in several U.S. jurisdictions, and Friends are the occasional victims of the requirements. The numbers taking their beliefs to the point of risking loss of a job are few. The May 1997 issue of Friends Bulletin calls our attention to the testimony against loyalty oaths and oaths of allegiance by several Friends in modern times. My thinking about oaths and the peace and good behavior requirement was influenced by a group of Friends who left California for Canada in 1952 to escape the loyalty oath that was then required of all state employees. Many of them were public school teachers and thus faced the oath requirements. Their destination was Argenta, British Columbia, where they settled and formed Argenta Meeting. I joined them in Argenta in 1983 when I retired from my university teaching position in Newfoundland.

In 1997 I was arrested in an environmental protest and served ten weeks in a British Columbia maximum-security prison for refusing to sign an "undertaking," a document attesting that I would keep the peace and be of good behavior. This practice comes from the English roots of Canadian law. It is frequently required by the arresting police in lieu of bail, and hence is seen by many arrestees in environmental actions as a relief from onerous bail requirements such as those imposed on people accused of serious offenses. I was asked to agree to appear for trial in five weeks, to which I found no objection. I was also required to agree that I would not return to the site of the protest, nor do there any of a long list of things, few if any of which I had done before. But I could not agree to refrain from going there at all, which was tantamount to giving up the protest to which I was committed. Returning was an option that I wanted to leave open, and to sign when I intended to return would be untruthful. The undertaking that arrestees were required to sign before release escaped the careful scrutiny it deserved by many because it was presented by police as just a routine. I was arrested in 1991 in a similar environmental protest. At that time I naively signed the undertaking without understanding its significance.

As a consequence, in 1997 I spent a long time in preparation, should the same approach be used by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. I spent long hours in a quiet place in Argenta meetinghouse. I conferred with Friends and family. I reread early Quaker journals. I recalled the experiences with oaths by my friends and others in Illinois in the 1950s that I had ignored during my 1991 arrest. The 1997 document proved to be much like the 1991 one, and the deceptive tactics of the police were similar. This time I saw the "peace and good behavior" clause as a promise to agree to whatever the state or its police should do or require of me in the future. I reasoned that had I signed and a law was subsequently passed to which I could not agree, I would be obliged to repudiate my agreement in order to oppose the new law. Of most significance, I anticipated that I would be required to surrender my ability to make relevant decisions according to my inner spiritual leadings. Above all, I could not sign because I feel I must reserve the right to make decisions under divine guidance, which must take priority over the requirements of the state.

The undertaking does not define good behavior, which leaves extraordinary powers to police to decide what is good, a power that rightly belongs to the legislature and to the citizens. The implication is that being arrested for a nonviolent protest, which was supported by an overwhelming majority of the community, made me of such a bad character that I could be subject to especially strict requirements of behavior not required of other citizens in matters having no relation to the protest. All this was solely because I was arrested, and not because I had been found guilty by due process of law. The environmental protest occurred because of the intent of the Forest Service to build a logging road into an area judged by residents and expert hydrologists to be too sensitive for a road or logging. The Forest Service obtained an injunction to remove our blockade, leading to the arrest of 16 of us. The protest was entirely nonviolent, so attested by witnesses, by the press, the police, and the courts.

The trial did not take place in the scheduled five weeks, and thus I found myself facing an unknown but certainly lengthy time in jail. I ended my self-imposed imprisonment after ten weeks because of poor health and because the road construction season had ended. Then, before my actual trial date, the court threw out the injunction under which I had been arrested and charges were stayed. It was ruled that the Forest Service had materially deceived the court on a number of factual issues in their application for an injunction. Thus I was not brought to trial. I felt vindicated in this case; my spiritual decision coincided with a favorable legal verdict. This was an unusual victory, one that I cannot count on all the time. I recognize that I compromised by seeking release. Ann Audland and Jane Waugh did not. My lawyer explained the legal situation to me: "You could be there forever." He could see no legal way to obtain my release except by my signing the undertaking. The two women must have faced a similar dilemma and did not give in. I have spent many hours thinking about that compromise, to no firm conclusion.

The way of leadings may be a lonely one. It was for me, in spite of the good counsel and visits to jail by Friends, my wife, our children and grandchildren. I return to Ann Audland and Jane Waugh for a standard by which to understand my own testimony. They could have bought their freedom in order to flee to continue their mission elsewhere. They could have paid and defied authority to continue locally. Instead, they saw their jail time as part of their testimony. They apparently believed that they could not set a price on the truth. The reasoning of modern courts is that those who post a bond will be more willing to behave properly and return for trial rather than risk a financial loss. But I do not behave morally or legally because of anticipated financial loss. Are we to say that we behave because of threats, or are we guided by the Light of Christ that we claim in less demanding times? Whether the penalty exacted by the state is financial or loss of liberty, or whether we fear loss of esteem by our neighbors, I believe we must follow where God leads. Let us heed the Inner Teacher. I honor Jane Waugh and Ann Audland for their example.