Spirituality and Humanitarian Practices Working Group


The Spirituality and Humanitarian Practices is offering an open invitation to make a personal statement of conscience especially against state sponsored violence. This invitation is the fruit of long discussions and activities, stretching back more than ten years with participants from Divisions 48 and 36 (Religion) as well as Psychologists for Social Responsibility (PsySR). There are four levels of participation in this initiative --

  1. Contributing a letter or statement of conscience in response to a situation or event.
  2. Contributing a statement of conscience as a proactive means of heeding a moral call to peace.
  3. Contributing a statement of conscience in relation to the unintended consequences of combat support and its effects on professionals serving in those venues.
  4. Providing a statement of conscience in relation to ongoing infra-structural violence.
  5. Proactively engaging systems of peace building through committees, NGOs, and organizations which seek to impact the infrastructure of societies; locally and globally.

Voices of Conscience is a proactive peace building method and tool that not only serves the deeper needs of people engaging the military establishment but also allows all citizens and professionals alike to express their heartfelt thoughts and feelings about war and violence.  The newly created website presents and promotes the details of the philosophy and principles behind generating a voice of conscience.  The day to day practices of professionals who have dedicated their lives to healing the soul wounds of veterans and the PTSD that surrounds it are expressed and shared on this site. The healing power of this practice is also something that powerfully invites individuals to share their stories of inspiration, recovery and healing.

For more information about the Voices of Conscience work contact us.


This is a twenty-year effort. In the context of this initiative that John Szura, a member of our Division 48 WG, of Division 36 and of PsySR, visited Japan in 2004 and 2007, securing the archives of the atom bomb museums of Hiroshima and Nagasaki documents and memorabilia pertaining to his friend and co-worker in peace, Rev. George Zabelka. Fr. Zabelka was the Catholic chaplain for the US airmen responsible for the 1945 atom bomb attacks against Japan. After the war and a profound conversion, he became a conscientious objector and a peace activist, focusing upon nuclear weapons and calling attention to the combat support consequences of military chaplaincy. John visited Japan again in 2011, meeting with Steve Leeper, Chair of the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation, to discuss Fr. Zabelka's peace legacy, possible displays, and conscience objector (CO) projects at the Hiroshima and Nagasaki museums.

The July-August 2004 Hawaii APA Convention started several conversations around the Abu Ghraib prisoner torture and abuse scandals. This issue became all the more relevant for us because on May 11 of that year, one of the United States military personnel charged with abuse said that her treatment of prisoners was on orders of superiors for "psyop" reasons. Some photographs of the abuse showed a female soldier holding on to a naked prisoner with a chain and dog collar, recalling an observation from 1940s military psychology that nudity, women, and, dogs were especially sensitive points in Arab culture.

At the August 2005 Washington, DC APA Convention, our WG organized a hospitality suite presentation exploring combat support consequences of noncombatant military roles, with emphasis on the parts played by psychologists and religious chaplains. Our main discussant was John Carmody of the Center for Christian Nonviolence. John is a conscientious objector, peace activist, and lecturer, who shared his moral convictions as well as his experience as a Purple Heart veteran of the Viet Nam conflict.

At the August 2009, and August 2015 at Toronto, Canada APA convention, we organized a symposium on psychology and conscientious objection against state sponsored violence. Presenters included our WG founder Steve Handwerker (of Divisions 48 and 36), John Szura, and Michael Hovey, former United Nations NGO representative of Pax Christi International. In that capacity, and in collaboration with other NGOs such as the Quakers and Amnesty International, Mike was instrumental in the process whereby the Geneva UN Human Rights Commission explicitly recognized conscientious objection to war and military service as a universal human right. Mike himself had become a conscientious objector and left the military during the Viet Nam conflict.

At the August 2011 Washington, DC APA Convention, we arranged a challenging conversation hour on state sponsored violence featuring a member of TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition): A Survivor of Torture Speaks with Psychologists - What Her Memories and Observations Say to Us. It was well attended and was followed by a spirited dialogue. One purpose of this event was for psychologists to listen to survivors of state sponsored violence as they raise their voices of conscience.

Recently, our WG has been engaging Tom Cornell as a consultant. Tom, a long-time member of the Catholic Worker and a conscientious objector during the Viet Nam conflict, was a co-founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and Pax Christi USA. He has extensive national CO counselor experience and an impressive history as a peace activist. Also during recent years, Jean Maria Arrigo, Division 48 and PsySR member, contributed insights concerning the militarization of psychology, operational psychology within conflict, and the vulnerability of U.S. clinical psychologists under age 44 to immediate conscription.

A practical aim of our WG discussions from the beginning has been the formation of a new kind of CO registry. During the Viet Nam conflict, conscientious objectors could send CO letters to a registry (a depository) held by a peace organization for future retrieval if proof of long-standing CO commitment was needed for a draft board hearing. The volunteer military made these registries less necessary and consequently made conscientious objectors and their witness for peace invisible. Their voice was muted. Yet conscientious objectors are still among us, quietly and invisibly refusing to volunteer. Their unseen presence can be made a visible witness through a new form of CO registry-one that receives CO letters for posting on a web site.

Such a CO registry is offered by the Center for Christian Nonviolence. The Center welcomes CO letters from anyone wishing to express their CO commitment, including psychologists refusing to become operational psychologists or to participate in the violence of the military or of the CIA. The Center also welcomes CO letters from religious ministers refusing on the grounds of conscience to volunteer as military chaplains. Especially interested in this religious aspect is Bishop John Botean, a peace movement leader who has been part of our CO discussion almost from the very beginning.

For more information about the Voices of Conscience work contact us.