Conscription and the First Amendment

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When I decided to rejoin my high school's debate team this year my only hope was that this year's topic would be something I could truly get passionate about. This time it offered one topic to which I could give my heart. The whole gist of the resolution was that the United States Federal government should get more people to serve in the military, Peace Corps, Americorps, or any of their many other corps in any way they saw fit. This of course is the way things work under the modern system of democratic mob rule.

As I traveled through the season I noted the complete lack of mention of the Constitution or anything related to it. I didn't think that such things were cared about much these days, and being a libertarian that saddened me but I could not let philosophy get in the way of things. This was until I realized a little remembered fact about debate; it has to fit current legal standing and the affirmative team can only create a policy and not destroy older laws unless explicitly stated. The Constitution is the central law of the nation, and changing it is no option since we go under set law. That was when I switched my tactics to use constitutional arguments against the affirmative team's plans.

I knew where exactly to go to find arguments against conscription based on the Constitution, to the last site with any respect for true rule of law, LewRockwell.com. I searched high and low on LRC and was surprised by the sheer amount of arguments revolving around conscription from a whole slew of writers. Of course most of these arguments revolved around the notion that the draft/national service is slavery and the Thirteenth Amendment always seemed to come up. Of course forced labor of any kind is slavery but some people refuse to see that. Since philosophical arguments do not fly so well in formal debates, I had to stick to the Constitution.

That was when I composed one of my own that I had never seen on LRC or any other sites I searched for that matter. This is the argument that conscription violates the First Amendment. This may seem somewhat out of place since issues of First Amendment generally revolve around free speech and freedom of religion. Freedom of religion is where it ties in. It especially ties in when you speak of "alternative service" such as what Charles Rangel proposes in his national service bill for conscientious objectors. The Supreme Court has ruled that religious pacifists are exempt from the draft as conscientious objectors, and since Rangel, the Progressive Policy Institute, and other proponents of the draft will leave no child unconscripted, they avoid the pesky exemption by proposing "civilian service" instead of the draft.

I did some research about certain religious groups and found some interesting things. There are those (Jehovah's Witnesses for example) who have a religious objection to placing anything above God, including the State. There are some religious traditions that prohibit adherents from even singing the national anthem or saluting the flag since to them nationalism is idolatry. This of course means that there are not just conscientious objectors to military service, but to all State service. Conscription, no matter what its form, violates the free exercise of religion.

I had to be careful when using this example in a high school debate. I don't ever drag religion into debates, but since I go to a Christian school there are certain people in the politically correct crowd who may see any mention of anything related to it in a debate as dragging my religion into it. Some may see it as an absolutist position with regards to religion, instead I see it as an absolutist stance of the First Amendment; "No means no," as Hugo Black once said.

I bit my tongue and used as many constitutional arguments as I could in the actual debates and people were shocked when I used the highest law of the land. They argued in vain that the benefits of "their" (or really Chuck Rangel's) conscription plan outweighed the law. In the end, I did not always win but the Constitution helped me win those debates I did and do better in those that I did not. In the end I also hope that a few of my opponents from other schools decided to take an actual look at the Constitution when they realized not doing so hurt them. I did, and it helped, and not just the Thirteenth Amendment.

When a policy is unjust and unconstitutional you cannot leave any part of the document unturned because it may violate in more ways than the obvious. After having some success with the First Amendment, I decided that this needed to be brought out so I emailed Lew Rockwell and told him about it. I thought it was something that needed to be brought up. I am not a professor of Constitutional Law, a Supreme Court Justice, or anything special, I am just one of those rare citizens who actually did research.

December 9, 2006

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