The legal requirement to register for the draft demands a decision: give up your freedom and your conscience, or conscientiously resist. All the good reasons that would prevent a free man from volunteering for military service, also apply to resisting the draft. How in a "free country" can the first requirement of a young man, when he comes of age, be to sign up to accept orders to kill for the state in an organized way? There is never a need to compel a free man to take up a cause that is both necessary and just; but a man who is drafted is never free, and thus his cause can never be assumed to be either necessary or just.
The draft is not simply an academic interest. There is not enough military manpower to sustain the commitments the President has already undertaken. We constantly hear that our troops are "stretched too thin." To assist the United States, both the President and Secretary of State have made serious requests for significant military manpower contributions from other nations. These requests have largely fallen on deaf ears. The President has repeatedly stated he will not "back down" meaning, we must assume, that the military forces will continue to be "thinly stretched." Where will they find relief? It appears they are looking at young Americans who are free to volunteer for military duty, but in good conscience, choose not to do so.
With certain exceptions, all men residing in the United States are required to register for the draft within 30 days of their 18th birthday. The obligation of a man to register is imposed by the Military Selective Service Act, which establishes and governs the operations of the Selective Service System.
In addition to the Military Selective Service Act, the “Health Care Personnel Delivery System” was authorized by Congress in 1987 to deal with large-scale casualties that outstripped the active-duty military’s ability to handle them. If implemented, the bill would require a mass registration of male and female health care workers between the ages of 20 and 45. At this time; however, the Selective Service has no statutory authority to draft medical personnel. That authorization would be provided by legislation to be introduced and passed in Congress at the time of a national defense mobilization. That “M-Day” legislative package has not been made available for public comment or congressional debate. See the Center on Conscience and War's "Health Care Professionals and the Draft" for details regarding the Health Care Personnel Delivery System.
The Pentagon is considering other “special skills” drafts, to include military linguists, computer experts, or engineers, which could arise from other immediate needs. "We’re going to elevate that kind of draft to be a priority," said Lewis Brodsky, acting director of the Selective Service System.
A bill before the House Armed Services Committee would require the induction of young men into the military “to receive basic military training and education for a period of up to one year.” Representatives Nick Smith and Curt Weldon sponsored the bill, called the "Universal Military Training and Service Act," introduced last fall. The measure is currently before the Armed Services Committee. Youth & Militarism Magazine, published by the American Friends Service Committee, contains an excellent article, "It's Not Your Father's Draft," describing this proposed draft.
Deciding What To Do
Deciding what to do when faced with Registration or the Draft can be a difficult and life-altering decision. If you choose to resist, it is helpful to keep two things in mind:
First, if you stand by your convictions, you cannot lose, and the government cannot win. The government may handcuff you or lock you up, but they cannot make you fight. If you give up any freedom, it is completely on your terms. In contrast, if you allow yourself to be coerced into military duties you risk death, disease, and disability, all for a cause you do not believe in.
Second, if you choose to resist, you will be treated as an adversary by the government. The government is no longer your friend if it ever was. You can expect the Selective Service to use every legal method and argument at their disposal to get you to abandon your convictions and to follow orders.
Keep records carefully, and make your own file of every transaction with the Selective Service, including phone calls. Do not rely on oral promises from Selective Service officials. Put things in writing, and attach receipts and even envelopes to the correspondence in your file. A second set of those records should be in the custody of someone you can rely on to forward copies as needed. When you make a record of a transaction with Selective Service, you should send a copy to Selective Service for inclusion in your file with the Area Office. When local boards become operational, you can see and copy information in your file. You can authorize others to do so on your behalf. Send your letters and claims to Selective Service by Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested. Observe all deadlines scrupulously. Be sure to include your Selective Service number. Sign and date all papers submitted.
Get help. Check out how the counselor you are consulting was trained. Most attorneys know nothing about Selective Service law; ask their qualifications. Draft counselors will tend to know about qualified attorneys. There are two qualified national counseling organizations: The Center on Conscience & War (CCW), and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO).
Choosing To Not Register
On a percentage basis, not registering is the most likely way to prevent you from being drafted. The book Chance and Circumstance states that between 250,000 and 2 million males did not register for the draft during the Vietnam War. According to reports from the Selective Service System, forty percent of the men who are required to register for the draft don’t register in the sixty-day time period required by law. At least one or two percent still haven’t registered by the time they are twenty. At age 26 they are no longer allowed to register. Thus, the number of permanent non-registrants increases daily. There is a known minimum of at least 300,000 people, perhaps a million, who are becoming permanent non-registrants.
If you refuse to register with Selective Service, you’ll receive threatening letters, at first politely reminding you to register, then threatening prosecution, finally informing you that your name has been turned over to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution. These sound scary, but they’re mostly bluff. No one has been formally charged since 1986.
In the early 1980s, 21 men were indicted for refusal to register: 19 of those 21 were public resisters. Wherever there were trials, the rates of registration actually went down. This resistance halted prosecutions
Penalties for Failure to Register
The penalty for failing to register can be up to five years in jail and/or a fine of up to $250,000. In peacetime, with registration only, the regular maximum penalties are four months and/or $2500. If you don’t register, you become ineligible for federal student aid, federal job training or civil service employment. Below, is a summary of the penalties you will face:
STUDENT FINANCIAL AID Men, born after December 31, 1959, who aren’t registered with Selective Service won’t qualify for Federal student loans or grant programs. This includes Pell Grants, College Work Study, Guaranteed Student/Plus Loans, and National Direct Student Loans.
CITIZENSHIP The U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) makes registration with Selective Service a condition for U.S. citizenship if the man first arrived in the U.S. before his 26th birthday.
FEDERAL JOB TRAINING The Workforce Investment Act (formerly called the Job Training Partnership Act JTPA) offers programs that can train young men for jobs in auto mechanics and other skills. This program is only open to those men who register with Selective Service. This applies only to men born after December 31, 1959.
FEDERAL JOBS A man must be registered to be eligible for jobs in the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the U.S. Postal Service. This applies only to men born after December 31, 1959.
Some states have added additional penalties for those who fail to register. See State Legislation.
A tactic used by many states is to require driver license applicant's to register. These states require a consent statement on all applications or renewals for driver's permits, licenses, and identification cards. The statement tells the applicant that by submitting the application he is consenting to his registration with the Selective Service if so required by Federal law. Transmission of applicant data to the Selective Service is accomplished electronically through an existing arrangement each state has with the data sharing system of the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators.
As of August 28, 2003, 32 states, 2 territories, and the District of Columbia have enacted driver’s license laws supporting SSS registration. They are: (1) Enacted and Implemented Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Virgin Islands, and the District of Columbia; (2) Enacted But Not Yet Implemented – Arizona, Kentucky, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin
Aid for Those Who Do Not Register
The good news is that there are alternative funds for financial aid for those who cannot register for war because they believe registration is wrong. A few colleges will provide scholarships to make up for the government money denied. Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, Quakers, Presbyterians and Lutherans have such limited assistance funds to support non-registrants in their own groups. There is a general fund, the Fund for Education and Training (FEAT), which supports those who do not qualify for the other programs. FEAT also would aid those who are denied job-training programs for refusing to register for the draft.
Appealing the Penalties for Failure to Register
A non-registrant may not be denied any benefit if he can “show by a preponderance of evidence” that his failure to register was not knowing and willful. You will have to describe, in detail, the circumstances you believe prevented you from registering and provide copies of documents showing any periods when you were hospitalized, institutionalized, or incarcerated occurring between your 18th and 26th birthdays. If you are a non-citizen, you may be required to provide documents that show when you entered the United States
The benefit agency official handling your case, not the Selective Service, will determine whether you have shown that your failure to register was not a knowing and willful failure to register. The final decision regarding your eligibility for the benefit that you seek will be made by that same agency, (for example, for student financial aid, this would be the Department of Education.) With some agencies, an appeals process is available.
Registering Late, Change of Address
Legally, at any moment until your twenty-sixth birthday, Selective Service must accept your draft registration card. Some young men delay registration until the year in which they turn 21, or even until just before turning 26. This method takes advantage of the way the draft lottery works.
A lottery based on birthdays determines the order in which registered men are called up by Selective Service. The first to be called, in a sequence determined by the lottery, will be men whose 20th birthday falls during that year, followed, if needed, by those aged 21, 22, 23, 24 and 25. In other words, under present law, which might change with a new draft, Selective Service would first select randomly among those who turned 20 in the calendar year of the call-up. In practice, while it’s possible that a draft could move beyond the age-20 selection group, the odds are against it.
It is important to remember that, once registered, even if it is the day before your 26th birthday, you are once again eligible for federal and state assistance.
Change of Address
Registrants are required to notify Selective Service within ten days of any changes to any of the information provided on the registration card, such as a change of address. According to the Center on Conscience and War, very few registrants are doing so. A registrant must report changes until January 1 of the year he turns 26. To notify Selective Service, mark your change(s) on the Change Information Form attached to the Registration acknowledgment Card and mail it to Selective Service, or complete a Change of Information Form, SSS Form 2, which you can obtain at any U.S. Post Office or U.S. Embassy or Consulate office. You may also notify Selective Service of any change by letter, but be sure to include your full name, Social Security Account Number, Selective Service Number, and date of birth, as well as your new mailing address
If the registrant forgets to notify the Selective Service of any address changes, or if the Selective Service loses that notification, the Selective Service may have difficulty finding and notifying the registrant of induction in case of a draft.
If you don’t register before you turn 26, you will not be allowed to register, even if you change your mind. You’d then be permanently barred from such benefits, unless Congress or the courts act to change the law. A person who fails to register by age 26 may use the same appeals process as described above, under the section "Choosing To Not Register."
Registering But Resisting Induction
If you decide to register:
- Find a post office for your registration that has an accessible photocopier.
- Print in legible black ink across the middle of the registration form: I AM A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TO WAR IN ANY FORM. This is not a classification, but it may help you later to document your position as a CO. Selective Service makes no record of this declaration in its computer files, but they do make a microfilm record of the registration card. You should make a copy of your card for your file.
- Make a photocopy of your registration form for your own records. Date it, fold and seal it, and mail it to yourself. The postmark confirms the date.
- Put a complete statement of your conscientious objector beliefs on file with your religious body, the CCW, the CCCO, or any other counseling agency.
After registration, Selective Service will send a “registration acknowledgement” letter, which repeats the information the registrant gave on the form and supplies a Selective Service Number. If any of the information is incorrect, the registrant may return the accompanying Form 3B to correct any mistakes. The registrant can retain this letter, Form 3A, as proof of his registration.
Before anyone can be drafted, Congress and the President would have to enact legislation authorizing new draft calls. If this happens, one can apply for various postponements and reclassifications to delay induction, or to avoid it entirely.
Filing for postponement or reclassification
Selective Service regulations are filled with loopholes, postponements, and reclassifications for those who will not or cannot be drafted. A registrant can file a claim only after receipt of an order to report for induction and before the day he is scheduled to report (this means within 10 days). If you were called up, you would receive an induction notice requiring you to report on a certain date not less than 10 days from the date of the notice, to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) unless you filed a claim for exemption or deferment. Filing a claim involves no more than checking a box on a form, and submitting it to the Selective Service.
After the Selective Service receives the claim, they will send you more forms to complete. You must apply for any and all exemptions for which you think you may qualify, and/or for classification as a conscientious objector. A registrant automatically gets his induction delayed if he files a claim for reclassification. He is also entitled to file for a postponement if he is a student or if he has an emergency beyond his control, such as a serious illness or death in his immediate family. The induction date will be postponed until the draft board evaluates the validity of the claim. The Selective Service publishes a booklet titled "Information for Registrants" which lists each category of claim for postponement of induction into the armed forces and each type of reclassification to become exempt from the draft. Under each heading (accessible by the web) is a detailed description of the qualifications and requirements for each category. The major headings are listed below.
- Student Postponements
- Emergency Postponements
- Religious Holiday Postponements
- Other Postponements –State or National Examination Scheduled –Military Academy Acceptance –Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Applicant –Acceptance for Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) Program
- Members of the Armed Forces of the United States, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration or the Public Health Service (Class 1-C)
- Deferment of Certain Members of a Reserve Component or Students Taking Military Training (Class 1-D-D)
- Exemption of Certain Members of a Reserve Component or Student Taking Military Training (Class 1-D-E)
- Conscientious Objectors Available for Noncombatant Military Service Only (Class 1-A-O)
- Conscientious Objectors to All Military Service (Class 1-O)
- Conscientious Objectors to All Military Service (Separated from Military Service) (Class 1-O-S)
- Registrant Deferred Because of Study Preparing for the Ministry (Class 2-D)
- Registrant Deferred Because of Hardship to Dependents (Class 3-A)
- Registrant Deferred Because of Hardship to Dependents (Separated from Military Service) (Class 3-A-S)
- Registrant Who Has Completed Military Service (Class 4-A)
- Registrant Who Has Performed Military Service for a Foreign Nation (Class 4-A-A)
- Official Deferred by Law (Class 4-B)
- Alien or Dual National (Class 4-C)
- Treaty Alien (Class 4-T)
- Minister of Religion (Class 4-D)
- Registrant Exempted from Service Because of the Death of His Parent or Sibling While Serving in the Armed Forces or Whose Parent or Sibling is in a Captured or Missing in Action Status (Class 4-G)
- Registrant Not Acceptable for Military Service (Class 4-F)
For a hard copy of the above information, write to Consumer Information Center, Pueblo, CO 81009, and ask for “Information for Registrants.” Enclose $1 for processing, payable to Superintendent of Documents. The CCCO, CCW and other counseling agencies will probably also have copies of this document available.
Conscientious Objection is the category of reclassification of most interest to the majority of draft resisters. In fact, every draft resister is a conscientious objector in his own way. According to the Selective Service, a conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or religious principles. Beliefs which qualify a registrant for CO status may be religious in nature, but don’t have to be. Beliefs may be moral or ethical, but according to the Selective Service, a man’s reasons for not wanting to participate in a war must not be based on politics, expediency, or self-interest. In general, the man’s lifestyle prior to making his claim must reflect his current claims.
Be aware that, while similar, regulations regarding Conscientious Objection differ for members of the military forces. For more information on claiming Conscientious Objector status while a member of the Armed Forces, see "Advice For Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces" by Robert Seeley on the CCCO website.
Conscientious objectors should begin to document their claims well in advance of being drafted since otherwise, their time will be very limited. COs should have prepared in advance a file which documents their beliefs. At the minimum, this file should include the photocopy of the registration card, a comprehensive statement of beliefs, and letters of support for this statement. The CCW website has articles with detailed instructions on how to prepare your statement of beliefs and letters of support. There, you may also sign on to the Conscientious Objector Affirmation. Such evidence can be presented to the local board that will hear the claim for a CO classification. Compiling this file should be done with supervision from a qualified draft counselor or agency such as CCW or CCCO.
If you have one, get on record with your religious organization, especially if there is an official registrar. File a provisional version of your claim with them and/or with the CCW or CCCO. Request an analysis of your claim with your counselor. Arrange for letters of support (signed and dated) and documentation of your belief and a life-style consistent with your claim. Arrange for witnesses and an advisor in advance of your hearing.
If you don't have legal advice, get it. Keep your own file about your beliefs about war and the draft. Keep records of all transactions with the Selective Service System. Many local peace centers have information. The Center on Conscience & Warfare (CCW) provides a counseling service by mail and phone, and publishes aids for thinking out what you believe and what to do. So does the CCCO, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors.
Be sure to learn the procedure for obtaining conscientious objection status.
In general, once a man gets a notice that he has been found qualified for military service (i.e., receives an induction letter), he has the opportunity to make a claim for classification as a conscientious objector (CO). If a registrant believes he can qualify for Class 1-O, he should complete the Claim Documentation Form, Conscientious Objector (SSS Form 22), provided by his Area Office and return the form to the Area Office with documents and written statements to support his claim. Form 22 asks the applicant to answer three questions.
- Describe your beliefs that are the reasons for your claiming conscientious objection to combatant military training and service or to all military training and service.
- Describe how and when you acquired these beliefs
- Explain what most clearly shows that your beliefs are deeply held. You may wish to include a description of how your beliefs affect the way you live.
You should begin preparing answers to these questions as soon as you decide to claim Conscientious Objector status. The Center on Conscience and War provides an excellent worksheet to help you.
A registrant making a claim for Conscientious Objection is required to appear before his local board to explain his beliefs. Claimants for hardship or ministerial classification may also request a personal appearance. At a personal appearance you will have at least twenty minutes, and may present up to three witnesses. You may be accompanied by an advisor, and may request that the meeting be open. You cannot use a recorder at the meeting; but you can submit your own summary within five days after the hearing.
If a claim of conscientious objector status is granted, Selective Service regulations state that the registrant must perform alternative service. Of course, one may also choose to resist or refuse alternative service for reasons of conscience. Likely Alternative Service jobs are in the fields of conservation, caring for the very young or very old, education, or health care. Length of service in the program will equal the amount of time a man would have been assigned to the military.
Appealing a Claim That Is Denied
The local board will decide whether to grant or deny a CO classification based on the evidence a registrant has presented. If your claim is rejected, you will receive a new induction date. The CCCO, CCW, and others can help you find lawyers and/or counselors to help you through the lengthy appeals process. The board must give reasons for rejection of your claim. You may appeal a Local Board’s decision to a Selective Service District Appeal Board. If the Appeal Board also denies your claim, but the vote is not unanimous, you may further appeal the decision to the National Appeal Board
You do, in good conscience, object to Registration and the Draft. This does not change simply because the Selective Service denies your claim. Since there is currently no draft, there are no rules governing those who refuse induction. Historically, draft resisters have been prosecuted and penalized in some manner. You can expect the same. If you choose to refuse induction or were successful using one of the methods described above, you will join a long line of conscientious objectors proud to have defended their freedom to make their own conscientious decisions, and your freedom to do the same. For their stories, check out one of the many books currently available on conscientious objectors and conscientious objection. If you let your conscience be your guide, not your fear or doubt or uncertainty, you will always make a good decision, you will always be free, and you will never regret it.
- Center on Conscience & War (NISBCO) 1830 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20009 202-483-2220 800-379-2679 Fax: 202-483-1246 firstname.lastname@example.org
- Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) 1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102 215-563-8787 Fax 215-567-2096 email@example.com
- CCCO West 630 20th Street Oakland, CA 94612 510-465-1617 Fax 510-465-2459 firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Selective Service System
- The Center on Conscience & War (CCW)
- The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO)
- The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)
- "Medical Workers Face Military Draft" WorldNet Daily
- "It's Not Your Father's Draft" Youth & Militarism Magazine
Appendix 1: SEQUENCE OF EVENTS
Here is a brief overview of what would occur if the United States returned to a draft:
1. CONGRESS AND THE PRESIDENT AUTHORIZE A DRAFT A crisis occurs which requires more troops than the volunteer military can supply. Congress passes and the President signs legislation that starts a draft.
2. THE LOTTERY The lottery would establish the priority of call based on the birth dates of registrants. The first men drafted would be those turning age 20 during the calendar year of the lottery. For example, if a draft were held in 1998, those men born in 1978 would be considered first. If a young man turns 21 in the year of the draft, he would be in the second priority, in turning 22 he would be in the third priority, and so forth until the year in which he turns 26 at which time he is over the age of liability. Younger men would not be called in that year until men in the 2025 age group are called
3. ALL PARTS OF SELECTIVE SERVICE ARE ACTIVATED The Agency activates and orders its State Directors and Reserve Forces Officers to report for duty. See also Agency Structure.
4. PHYSICAL, MENTAL, AND MORAL EVALUATION OF REGISTRANTS Registrants with low lottery numbers are ordered to report for a physical, mental, and moral evaluation at a Military Entrance Processing Station to determine whether they are fit for military service. Once he is notified of the results of the evaluation, a registrant will be given 10 days to file a claim for exemption, postponement, or deferment. See also Classifications.
5. LOCAL AND APPEAL BOARDS ACTIVATED AND INDUCTION NOTICES SENT Local and Appeal Boards will process registrant claims. Those who pass the military evaluation will receive induction orders. An inductee will have 10 days to report to a local Military Entrance Processing Station for induction.
The registrant appeal process begins when a registrant is dissatisfied with his Local Board's decision about his reclassification request and initiates an appeal. The first line of appeal is to the District Appeal Board. In the case of non-unanimous decisions of the District Appeal Board, the registrant may appeal to the President through the National Appeal Board.
6. FIRST DRAFTEES ARE INDUCTED According to current plans, Selective Service must deliver the first inductees to the military within 193 days from the onset of a crisis.
September 16, 2003