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Moses Mast on the Critical Work of the Oklahoma Center for Conscience

This is an article written by OCC founding member Moses Mast. In various forms it will appear in the Joy Mennonite Church newsletter and in the Oklahoma Peace House newspaper, Peace Strategy News.

It has a good overview of our Oklahoma GI Rights Hotline project.

Oklahoma Center for Conscience was started with two concerns: First, to assist soldiers who no longer wish to serve in the military, with special attention to those who want out for conscience sake. Second, to counsel youth before they enlist about the realities of war, and options for those who have enlisted but later regretted it. There is great need for this counsel because at their most vulnerable age our youth are enticed with promises that do not have to be kept, and deceived with no sense of accountability to provide them the whole truth. Our country spends millions to snare our youth in this manner, making our military not a true volunteer force.
OCC was formed by groups and individuals from the peace community in Oklahoma City. Joy Mennonite Church serves as the host church, with support from members of Catholic Peace Fellowship, Veterans for Peace, and Quakers of OKC. Later, Eastern Oklahoma Pax Christi in Tulsa added their endorsement.

These are all small groups, only able to provide very modest monetary support. We raise funds from those in our community who support our mission, and that brings me to the purpose of this message: seeking your help.

What any donor wants to know is: How will the money be used? Let me explain where bulk of our budget goes.

We have lay counselors trained in military law answering calls to our Oklahoma G I Rights Hotline. Someone trained in psychology does evaluations that help in court cases. All these serve as volunteers.

Our greatest expense is providing legal services, and this is our most urgent need for assistance. James M. Branum, our attorney on staff, is helping as many as 40 clients at any one time. His work also requires lots of travel, as court cases are at the client’s home base. James charges a modest fee for those who can pay. Sometimes parents pay for legal counsel. There have also been other organizations that have paid for legal counsel. This still leaves a good number who cannot pay. To cover these cases, OCC pays James $400 a month.

If you observe James at work, besides being skilled in military law James is able to speak about the moral issue of war without imposing his beliefs on another.

Most of those who ask for our assistance have not formed a conscience about violence and war. They are more often troubled people who cannot adjust to military discipline. Our policy is to address the concern they bring to us. Often we can do no more then explain what to expect from certain decisions. We have, however, had some very rewarding experiences that have cheered us on the way.

* Camilo Mejia, after serving a tour of duty in Iraq, was troubled with his experience and took a stand as a conscientious objector. For this he was incarcerated in the military prison in Ft. Sill, Oklahoma. After his release we provided lodging for him and his family the first night. Later Camillo returned to Oklahoma to participate in forming an Oklahoma chapter of Catholic Peace Fellowship

* Jake Malloy, a sincere young Christian man, wanting to do the right thing as he was taught and understood, enlisted in the military to defend our freedom and way of life. Jake was sent for training to Ft. Sill, OK. During training Jake realized he was being trained to kill.; as a follower of Jesus he realized he could not do this. When he refused to train he was severely threatened, but Jake remained firm. His application for conscientious objector status was refused. Our attorney helped him with an appeal, and Jake was granted a less than honorable discharge. Later Jake returned to Oklahoma with his wife and child, his parents and grandparents, and at Joy Mennonite we had a service of celebration.

* Daniel Sandate served a tour in Iraq but after a short leave in the states, did not return to duty but fled to Canada to escape the war. Daniel was one of the first ones deported from Canada. Attorney James Branum represented Daniel in his trial. Daniel served his sentence at Ft. Sill. After his release from prison, because he had no family or place to go, we invited him to come to Oklahoma City to have some time to adjust to life again. Daniel has since become active in Joy Mennonite Church and in the community and has been a delight to be with.

In addition to these examples, James, as our attorney, has represented others who took the stand as conscientious objectors. He reports an increase of those who oppose war as conscientious objectors.

We have spoken to university and high school classes. We have literature tables at peace events and at places where youth gather. We have spent hundreds of dollars for literature and anticipate our expense for literature will increase.

If you would like to participate with us in this work you can contact us via email: mosesmast@gmail.com. Or you can mail us: Moses Mast, 4708 Outpost Dr., Spencer, OK 73084. If you wish to write a check, make it out to “Joy Mennonite Church“ and earmark is for “OCC.”
Thank you for your prayers and support. We wish all of you well in your efforts to bring peace to the world.

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CCA Program Director