Statement from the Washington Association of Churches


419 Occidental Avenue South, Suite 201   Seattle, Washington  98104-2886     (206) 625-9790    fax 625-9791

Civility Principles
and the debate over our public values

Issued by the Washington Association of Churches
March 6, 1996


Our society is actively engaged In debates about the values upon which our public policies are developed.  In the midst of these diverse viewpoints, we often experience significant tension over differing viewpoints.  These tensions affect  the livelihoods of everyone.  When acts of harassment, intimidation and violence are directed against persons holding particular beliefs, the entire community suffers.  This kind of hostility is yet another expression of the propensity to use harassment, Intimidation and violence within our society.

We have noted with dismay the escalation of harassment, intimidation and violence and have reflected on the importance of civility as a type of behavior which can help us deal with conflicts in our values and still maintain the civil peace and a basic sense of community. 

Why "principles of civility"?

To live together in community, there has to be some shared sense and acceptance of common values or, there has to be a way to mediate, resolve, and live within a pluralistic value structure.  There has to be some commonly understood practices of civil behavior between individuals and groups in conflict situations.

Conflicting values do not have to be blunted and suppressed because of what we fear in one another.  Conflicting viewpoints about public values and policy, about race, gender, religious beliefs or any of numerous issues over which we struggle, when they are respectfully placed before the public, can provide new light to see common ground.

Civility is a code of behavior and a way of acting towards each other both in our public and private interactions.

Principles of civility ought to embrace clear principles of respect for the environment, for human rights and for economic, political and racial justice.  Principles of civility strengthen our community through an appreciation of our common ground and deepen our sense of civic responsibility to bring about our common good.

The virtue of justice is the foundation of community. Justice offers visions which affirm the world as a whole and foster a wholeness of the spirit. It insists upon the common good for the whole community. Civil behavior defines our conduct to live according to these values. We call on public officials, readers of community groups, and the media to join us in this trying year of debate and decision in establishing clear standards of behavior for the civil process and to hold each other accountable for such behavior.  This can include monitoring the public arena to determine their implementation, and to clearly and decisively denounce their violation.

What does "civility" require of us?

Because justice requires us to respect the dignity of each and every person...

Civility requires a respect for and an adherence to human rights where no one's right to expression, viewpoint and belief is challenged by harassment, intimidation and violence.  
Civility requires that the active recognition of the human rights of every person be seen as essential to the common good.
Civility requires that our commitments extend beyond our concern for stopping crimes of hostility and be extended to the practice of promoting and honoring human dignity.

Principles of Civil behavior...

... promote a community where mutuality, reciprocity, justice, truth telling, accountability, and democracy are practiced.
... unite people instead of divide them.
... promote inclusively and tolerance and respect for cultural and religious differences.
... promote an appreciation for the diversity that exists within our interconnected communities.

Civility Principles define standards of conduct:
We call on all persons of good will to ....

  1. Respect those who bring different points of view to the public arena and to be able to articulate the arguments of those with whom we disagree.
  2. Insist that all people, no matter what their persuasion, deserve the respect democratic civility requires.
  3. Demand that groups who advocate and organize around particular values not seek special privilege, let alone excuse themselves from those same rules of democratic civility that it claims for itself. I
  4. Support the victims of hate crimes and physical and other forms of abuse.
  5. Challenge the cultural order which tolerates and gives rise to crimes committed against someone for their beliefs and viewpoints.
  6. Apply faith and personal convictions in situations of human conflict in such a way as to integrate the practice of justice with the hope of reconciliation.