Ethos Education

Suffragette: How should we protest against things we believe to be wrong?

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Learning Objectives:

  • Understanding of biblical teaching about how Christians relate with the state.
  • Consideration of the tension between personal conviction and authority.
  • Awareness of different forms of protest.
  • Awareness of the role of local, national and international pressure groups.

Learning Outcomes:

  • Reflect upon different methods of protest against perceived injustice.
  • Evaluate the pros and cons of different methods of protest.
  • Analyse the actions of the women’s suffrage movement, as represented in a scene from the film Suffragette.
  • Consider what factors a Christian might take into account in deciding how to protest.
  • Analyse different means of protest and assess how likely it would be that a Christian would be willing to undertake them.
  • Reflect upon the Christian influence in Martin Luther King Jr’s principles of non-violent protest.
  • Synthesise learning by writing a discussion between Emmeline Pankhurst and a pre-prison Martin Luther King Jr.

Supporting Values Education:

The values of democracy and the rule of law are based on the belief that humans are created equal and should have equal access to the democratic process. This lesson encourages students to consider different approaches when that equality is not reflected in existing legal practices and frameworks.

STARTER:

Write some provocative statements up on the board – things which are likely to divide the opinions of the class. For example:

  • Manchester City are the best football team in Britain.
  • Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway is the best show on television.
  • Holidays are better than being at school.
  • The England football team are hopeless and will never win another major tournament.
  • The Queen does a great job, and provides the nation with value for money.
  • Vegetarianism is morally right, and eating meat is morally wrong.
  • The government should crack down on rich companies who avoid their tax obligations just as heavily as it cracks down on people wrongly claiming benefits.

Ask students to indicate whether or not they agree with each of the statements by means of a show of hands. In the unlikely event that the entire class agrees on all of the statements, you could give the students the challenge of coming up with a statement that would divide their opinions.

Now ask the students how they would go about the task of changing the opinion of somebody who disagreed with them. Emphasise that you are more concerned with the process and approach that they might use, rather than the actual opinions themselves.

Explain that in this lesson you will be thinking about how ordinary members of British society go about the task of changing the opinions of politicians and other decision makers, how people express disagreement with government policy and what difference Christian faith makes to this process.

MAIN ACTIVITIES:

Introduce the clip from Suffragette (Pathe, 2015, certificate 12). Click here to buy the DVD online.

Explain that this part of the film takes place in 1912, at a time when women in Britain did not enjoy the same rights as men; they didn’t get a vote in elections, they didn’t receive equal pay, and they didn’t even have control over their own property or their own children. Ask the students to pay particular attention to the actions that the protesters take in this clip and to consider whether the situation they were in justified such actions.

Start time:       0.01.03 (in chapter 1 of the DVD)
End time:         0.04.45
Clip length:      3 minutes and 42 seconds

The clip starts at the end of the film company credits, with a scene of women working in a factory. It ends with Maude (Carey Mulligan) getting on a bus to escape from the chaos in Oxford Street.

Ask the students why they think the women’s suffrage movement decided to embark on a course of civil disobedience (draw out that the captions at the beginning of the clip said they had campaigned peacefully for decades, only to see their arguments ignored by the government). Were these tactics justified in seeking to resolve the social injustice of women lacking the same rights as men?

Moving away from the question of women’s suffrage, ask the students to brainstorm a list of different methods of protesting against a perceived injustice. If the class needs some prompting, you could suggest all or some of the following: petitions; acts of terrorism; hostage taking; mass demonstrations; writing books or magazine articles about the issue; standing as a candidate at a local or national election. Allow a little time for the class to discuss which of the suggested methods were most likely to be effective, and which ones least likely.

Ask the students what factors they think Christians would be likely to take into account when deciding how to protest against something. Bible passages such as Romans 13:1-5, Daniel 3:1-30 and 6:1-28 may be useful points of reference. The overall position suggested by the Bible is that Christians should respect all earthly authority (including governments), recognising that God has established all authority, and that it only exists because he permits it to continue. This is not the same as saying they believe that God always agrees with what people in authority do. Christians believe that those who wield authority will one day have to answer to God for their actions. Traditionally Christians do not consider themselves free to break laws just because they disagree with them. However, there may be occasions where a law directly contradicts God, in which case most Christians would consider it right to honour the higher authority of God’s law (as demonstrated in the two passages from Daniel mentioned above).

Introduce a second clip from Suffragette. Explain that Maude has become involved in the Suffragette movement. In this scene she goes to hear Emmeline Pankhurst, the Suffragettes’ leader, speak at a secret rally. Ask the students to reflect on what Mrs Pankhurst says about what the movement should do next.

Start time:       0.41.04
End time:         0.44.23
Clip length:      3 minutes and 19 seconds

Ask the students how Mrs Pankhurst’s campaign of action compares with the principles in the Bible passages they looked at. How do the students think a Christian might respond to such an appeal?

Remind the students that one of the great leaders of the Civil Rights movement in the United States of America was Martin Luther King Jr. As well as being a minister of the Baptist Church, he grew to understand the importance of non-violence in opposition to institutionalised injustice. King himself once said, ‘Peace is not merely a distant goal we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.’ Give out copies of the worksheet Martin Luther King Jr and non-violence.

King’s non-violence was founded on six key principles:

  1. Evil can be resisted without resorting to violence.
  2. Non-violence seeks to win the ‘friendship and understanding’ of the opponent, rather than seeking to humiliate.
  3. Evil should be opposed, not the people who are committing acts of evil.
  4. Those who are committed to non-violence have to be willing to suffer without retaliating, recognising that suffering can be redemptive.
  5. Non-violent resistance must be internal as well as external: as well as refusing to shoot your enemy, you must refuse to hate him.
  6. Practitioners of non-violence require a ‘deep faith in the future’ that stems from the belief that ‘the universe is on the side of justice’.

Ask the students which of these principles show particular correlation with Christian beliefs. Are there any which would be hard for people to embrace if they did not share Dr King Jr’s religious faith?

Ask the students to compare Martin Luther King Jr’s non-violence with the actions of the women’s suffrage movement, which also included planting bombs at the homes of leading members of the Establishment. Which do they find more appealing? What reasons might someone in the Suffragettes’ position have for rejecting non-violence as a way forward?

SUMMARY AND ASSESSMENT OF LEARNING:

Ask the students to write a conversation between Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Suffragettes, and Martin Luther King Jr, in which they argue the respective merits of violent and non-violent responses to injustice. The discussion should include specific reference to a Christian analysis of the argument.

YOU WILL NEED:

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