The Selective Service System is currently being scrutinized, hopefully with an element of discernment involved. That’s where you come in. We depend on you to comment during this short window of time during which decisions are being made about future drafts.
As we shared in our Spring 2018 newsletter, The National Commission on Military, National, and Public Service is a commission that was created by Congress to look at updating the Selective Service and to consider a mandatory service requirement. As the Executive Director of Quaker House, I attended the first public hearing in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, in 2018, the hearing specifically about the mandatory service requirement in Washington DC in February 2019, and the two-days of hearings, encompassing four sessions, on the Selective Service, again in Washington DC in April 2019. On each trip, I offered public comment advocating for conscientious objectors.
Some Things You Should Know from the Two Days of Selective Service Hearings
Women and the Draft:
Now that women are no longer barred from combat roles, the general thinking is that women are also no longer exempt from the draft. In fact, current case rulings are shifting such that an all-male draft is now unconstitutional. Eventually, this development can go one of two ways—either get rid of the Selective Service System or require women to register with the Selective Service. One of the two days of the hearings was devoted exclusively to this issue. Interestingly, the commissioners asked panelists whether a religious belief that women should not be required to serve in the military would qualify as a new type of conscientious objection. Would this dilute the meaning of being consciously opposed to participation in war itself? (Note that being religiously opposed to having women serve in combat was defended by at least one panelist, Mark Coppenger of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, who was also very much in favor of men fighting wars.) A second basis for retaining the Selective Service System while continuing to exclude women was the assertion that women are injured and killed at a higher rate than men and, therefore, they are not equally positioned, due to innate or immutable characteristics, when facing a draft. Its counterargument was that such a generalization is not true of every single woman (not every woman will have a higher chance of injury or death than every other man) and that you cannot make law based on generalizations unless they hold true in every single case.
Assertion of a Great Relationship with the CO Community:
The current Director of the Selective Service, Donald Benton, was asked by the commissioners about the repeated requests by the conscientious objector community that registrants be allowed to self-identify as conscientious objectors on their Selective Service forms. He replied, “We have a great relationship with peace churches throughout the United States; the conscientious objector community. We engage with them on a regular basis . . . We believe it would be unnecessary, slow down the process, and create a larger image of an unfair system if people were allowed to sign off as conscientious objectors first . . . The current system seems to work well; it has worked well, the local [draft] boards work well, and we believe that there’s no reason to allow people to opt out before there is a need for them to show that they are a conscientious objector.”
Quaker House disagrees with his viewpoint. Being able to identify as a conscientious objector recognizes the sanctity of free will, particularly regarding the dictates of conscience as regards to killing others. Having the designation on the form lets registrants know the concept exists and allows them to begin their own process of discernment. It is precisely because no one can currently self-identify as a conscientious objector that Quaker House has written and sells a resource guide on our web site for understanding conscientious objection and, then, how to build a documentation file if a young person discerns he or she is a conscientious objector. We provide our companion PowerPoint presentation freely, via email.
What You Can Do:
Several times during the hearings, Commissioners referenced what they have been hearing from the conscientious objector community. It is encouraging that our communities’ continued presence at the hearings and written comments are being heard. However, more time and emphasis was spent on how our nation could best be ready to mobilize an armed force quickly. You can still send in your comments by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. You must put Docket No. 05-2018-01 in the subject line of your email.
Now is the time to make your voice heard.
By Kindra Bradley, Quaker House Executive Director
Published in our Spring 2019 newsletter, News from the HomeFront.