If you claimed conscientious objector status, would a draft board believe you? Curt Torell of Quaker House has some tips for making sure they do.
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- Do you consider yourself a conscientious objector? What would you do if there was a draft?
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Imagine if 3 years from now, there was a draft. And you got a draft notice to report for induction and you realized that you were a conscientious objector. What you would do is you would fill out a form requesting a deferment and you would be scheduled to meet with a local draft board to substantiate your position. One of the 3 definitions of being a conscientious objector is that it’s sincere and deeply held. So if you had not done any kind of documentation and you went to that draft board, the first question they would say is, “Well, are you really a conscientious objector, or do you just want to get out of the draft? Because you’ve just turned this thing in 10 days ago.”
How to Become a Conscientious Objector
Conscientious objection, legally, fits into three terms: a person has to be personally against their own participation in any and all wars. It must be based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs and training. And the third is it must be sincere or deeply held. And that third one really equates to documentation.
A Spiritual Conviction Against War
One of the things that Quakers early on as a testimony was the testimony of peace and honoring “that of God” in every person. When you’re killing someone in war, you’re not recognizing that there is that of God in that person. George Fox talked about taking away the occasions for all war, and I think what he was trying to do was stress the fact that every human being is a child of God, and therefore respected.
The Origin of Conscientious Objection
I think conscientious objection evolved not because of a government making a decision down, but you had Quakers–who were rather stubborn about their religious views– and they asserted that they would not go to war. And I think that force, early on during the colonial period, pushed legislators and state legislators to recognize the fact that this group is not going to go to war.
The Hidden Registration for Selective Service
Virtually every male living in the United States–even illegal immigrants– need to register for selective service 30 days before or after their 18th birthday. That process has become pretty much seamless and hidden in that, in about 45 states across the country, it’s now automatic when people sign up for a driver’s license. So you people, young men really aren’t even aware that they are signing up for selective service.
Oddly enough, right now for 18 year olds, there’s no place on their selective service form to document a position for conscientious objection.
The Importance of Documentation
So if the draft board said to you, “Prove that you’re a conscientious objector. Show us that you’re sincere and that these are deeply held.” The best answer you could say is you could look them right in the eye and say, “Three years ago, when there was no draft and I didn’t have to do this, I signed up for selective service and I wrote a letter to my faith or my support community indicating that I wanted to be a C.O. I think that shows my sincerity.”
How to Support Learning About Conscientious Objection
To take a position as a conscientious objector, it’s basically a communal decision. It starts with the individual, but they need the support of the entire community. If you’re interested in documenting a position for conscientious objection when you’re 18, or if your meeting is interested in nurturing your young people so that they can make this decision and documenting it, you can go to the Quaker House website, that’s QuakerHouse.org (one word) and this is the curriculum that you’ll find.
It’s got everything that you could possibly want. So basically we put this curriculum together for people who may not have any experience about teaching, who may not know anything about this subject. Just about anything you could want, rather than getting it from 20 different sites on the web, it’s all within this curriculum, so please go to the Quaker House website and inculcate your meeting with the importance of doing this.
The views expressed in this video are of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Friends Journal or its collaborators.
10 thoughts on “How to Become a Conscientious Objector”
My cousin Dean Holland founded Quaker House at 19 years of age. He died in a car accident soon after. He wasn’t Quaker. He was a solider who had volunteered during the Vietnam war and soon realized he couldn’t serve. I became a Quaker in 1995 – Brooklyn meeting. Thank you for Quaker speak. We need to be more visible in the world as Friends.
Friends should be aware the current Selective service SS) law requires the appellant to make a proof of crystallization of his or her belief regarding war and military service; to identify the point in time when ones belief regarding war crystallized . Membership in a historical Peace Church such as Quaker, Brethren and Mennonite(These three are specifically identified in the law as a substitute for crystallization. The documentation should identify the individual as a member of one of the three faiths. Since there is no mention of associate member or any other subset of Member in the law . Any mention of deferment desires at registration will be ignored Registration is only to provide SS with the registrant’s current legal address and when ever that address changes while the registrant is is of draft age the registrant must register again.
JW Spear, Sr. past SS Bord member of 9 years and member of Valley Friends Meeting.
This is a good and useful piece and helpful. My concern is that is perpetuates the misconception that our testimony of peace arises in the belief that “there is that of God in all people.” Curt even says that this is what Fox was saying in his testimony. It is not.
Our call to peace and to live in a way that does away with the occasion of all war arises in our experience of the Divine. “The Spirit of Christ, by which we are guided is not changeable.” To base our peace testimony in anything less than the direct Experience of God is to dilute it to meaningless.
As a Viet Nam veteran and member of VVAW and Veterans for Peace, my problem with being a Quaker is knowing the FCNL started in 1942, during a justifiable war due to the holocaust in Europe. How popular is my stance as a Quaker but not C.O.?
Friends seek to live a life with which they answer to that of God in everyone. Arguably guns will not serve the purpose. And that is one root of the peace testimony. To believe in that of God… may be a creed or a theology. It may not quite be consequential enough for a testimony.
Very informative n inspiring
I am currently appealing my Selective Service classification. During the US war with Vietnam, I was a conscientious objector but was classified as unfit to serve. I have been appealing this for 10 years. Richard Flahavan, at Intergovernmental Affairs, keeps obstructing the appeal, claiming there is no appeal process.
I read CO literally, as moral philosophy and legal, logical language: knowing right from wrong, knowing consent from objection. Deferment by religious denomination is another subject. I am not a member of the Society of Friends, i.e., Quakers.
I do believe war may be a justified resort to conflict resolution. I also believe that, presently and for too long, the US budget has been lopsided, favoring so called defense over the general Welfare, the judiciary, et alia, referring to the US Constitution preamble.
I was about to start 7th grade when Jimmy Carter reactivated draft registration in 1980. I was advised then by people who had been draft counselors just a few years before to prepare two identical portfolios. In those, I was to put copies of every letter and essay I wrote that expressed my views on war. I was advised to clip newspaper and magazine articles on war or militarism, including the dates and sources, and attach a paragraph or two giving my views and reflections on the content. When I attended rallies or marches, write a couple of paragraphs with reflections on my experiences. The idea was so that if the draft was reactivated, I could have something on hand right away that I could take in; the second version was a back-up, as draft boards used to have a habit of “misplacing” the documents.
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