Conscientious Objection Information

Some information/resources for Garry Thomas’ and Marilyn Ray’s presentation on “Conscientious Objection: Then and Now,” Burtt House, January 28, 2010:

Selective Service System

(Sources include,,

The Selective Service System is a means by which the United States maintains information on those potentially subject to military conscription.

Who Must Register?

Since July 2, 1982 (Proclamation 4771, Registration Under the Military Selective Service Act),all males between the ages of 18 to 25 born after January 1, 1960, are required by law to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Registration for Selective Service is also required for various federal programs and benefits, including student loans, job training, federal employment, and naturalization.

In many states, including New York, it is the law that if a young man applies for a non-drivers identification card, driver’s permit, or driver’s license or renewal of a driver’s license he is automatically (and in many cases, unwittingly) registered with the Selective Service System. (“[The Department of Motor Vehicles] commissioner shall notify such applicants on the application form that any application for a learner`s permit, driver`s license, renewal of license or non-driver`s identification card shall serve as consent to be registered with the selective service system, if so required by federal law.”)

In the current registration system technically a man cannot indicate that he is a conscientious objector (CO) to war when registering, but he can choose to write on the registration card “I am a conscientious objector to war” to document their conviction, even though the government will not have such a classification until there is a draft. He can always claim CO status when he is drafted. Marking it on the registration, keeping a copy, sending the registration with a return receip requested, and saving the copy and the return receipt when it arrives can be used as proof you notified the Selective Service of your CO status prior to being drafted, and can strengthen you claim later, Several religious, nonsectarian, and secular organizations (including Ithaca Monthly Meeting), allow conscientious objectors to file a written record stating their beliefs.

Exemption of Women

Currently, as stated in the Selective Service System website (, the law exempts women from registration: The issue of women being exempted was addressed and approved in 1981 by the United States Supreme Court in Rostker v. Goldberg, with the Court holding that “the existence of the combat restrictions clearly indicates the basis for Congress’ decision to exempt women from registration. The purpose of registration was to prepare for a draft of combat troops. Since women are excluded from combat, Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”

Failure to Register

In 1980, men who knew they were required to register and did not do so could face up to five years in jail or a fine up to $50,000 if convicted. The potential fine was later increased to $250,000. Despite these possible penalties, government records indicate that from 1980 through 1986 there were only 20 indictments, of which 19 were instigated in part by self-publicized and self-reported non-registration.

Possible reinstatement of the draft

Several times in recent years, Representative Charles Rangel (D-NY) has introduced legislation to reinstitute the draft, from an egalitarian and anti-war perspective: “I believe that if those calling for war knew that their children were likely to be required to serve — and to be placed in harm’s way — there would be more caution and a greater willingness to work with the international community in dealing with Iraq [and Afghanistan]. A renewed draft will help bring a greater appreciation of the consequences of decisions to go to war.”

His proposed bills normally get buried in committees. The one time in recent history when it was brought to the floor of the House, it was defeated overwhelmingly and there is little support for the legislation at present.

Still, Rep. Rangel is hardly alone on the left calling for renewing the draft. See “Bill Moyers Essay: Restoring Accountability for Washington’s Wars” (October 30, 2009) and the many Bob Herbert columns in the NYT, e.g.,

Also, during the 2008 Presidential campaign, Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain disagreed on a key foundation of any future draft: “Mr. Obama supported a requirement for both men and women to register with the Selective Service, while Mr. McCain did not think women should have to register. Also, Mr. Obama said he would consider officially opening combat positions to women. Mr. McCain said he would not.” (“Candidates differ on female draft,” (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 13, 2008)

Mobilization (or draft) procedures

If the President claims a crisis has occurred which requires more troops than the volunteer military can supply, it is up to Congress to pass legislation which revises the Military Selective Service Act to initiate a draft for the President to sign.

Advice to Youth Facing Registration with Selective Service

If you are a conscientious objector whose conscience allows you to register you should go to the post office and fill out the registration card. Write somewhere on the face of the card, between the lines or above your signature, “I’m opposed to participation in war in any form because of my ethical, moral, or religious beliefs,” or words to that effect. You should make a photocopy of the card before surrendering it to the postal clerk. This cannot be done if you register electronically, so we obviously suggest you register by mail! In the event you are only able to register online or were registered by the Department of Motor Vechicles when you applied for a drivers license you will still have the opportunity to note you are a conscientious objector on Form 3B (read paragraph below).

Selective Service will enter the registration information into its computer, microfilm the registration card, and destroy it. Selective Service will also send a “registration acknowledgment” letter, which repeats the information you gave on the registration form, and assigns you a Selective Service number. This letter, Selective Service Form 3A, should be kept by the registrant as proof of his registration. The instructions say that if any information is incorrect, the registrant should return the accompanying Form 3B to correct any mistakes.

The registration acknowledgment will contain no reference to the fact that you registered as a conscientious objector. Note on Form 3B that you are a conscientious objector and wish this to be noted in Selective Service records. Selective Service will not change its data in the computer to acknowledge that you would like to be registered as a CO. However, if you send this statement to Selective Service by certified mail return receipt requested, and keep a photocopy together with your receipts, you will have documented that you attempted to get your beliefs on record with Selective Service long before they attempted to draft you. (If you registered without mentioning that you are a conscientious objector, you can send a letter stating this to Selective Service at any time.)

Remember that none of these actions take the place of formally filing your claim at the appropriate time in the event of a draft. (That time is about 7-10 days after you are called up for the draft) The initial claim is made on Selective Service Form 8 or 9 during the narrow window of time that Selective Service provides when your number comes up for draft processing. The actual written claim is documented using Selective Service Form 22.

The careful paper trail you have kept when registering with the Selective Service merely documents that you tried to get your conscientious objector convictions on record. In the event you are drafted, this will help you prove the consistency and longevity of your beliefs.

In anticipation of a draft, you should prepare a file of evidence of your beliefs. At minimum, include in this file photocopies of your registration card and other attempts to get on record, a comprehensive statement of your beliefs, documentation of activities in your life that help to support your claim, and letters of support. This evidence can be provided to the local board who will hear your claim for CO classification if you are drafted. A qualified draft counselor or agency such as the Center on Conscience & War can help you compile this file.

In summary, according to the Center on Conscience & War (CCW), if you decide to register:

1. Print in legible black ink on the face of all Forms sent to Selective Service (not on the edges): I am a conscientious objector.

2. Make a photocopy of all Forms for your own records before you submit it to the postal clerk for date
stamp and initials. Send all mail return-receipt requested. Keep the copy and the return receipt in a safe place so you will have it if you ever need to prove you are a CO.

3. Prepare a statement of your beliefs. Get it on file with your church or a reputable peace organization such as CCW. Such a statement could be helpful in getting the government to recognize your CO beliefs.

Top of Form

Forms for Conscientious Objection/Statement of Conscience

(Questions paraphrased from the Selective Service Documentation Form for CO’s, Form 22, posted on the Northwest Yearly Meeting of Friends website, active-peacemaking/conscientious-objection/forms-for-conscientious-objection/)

Conscientious Objectors should think through the following questions and write-out their answers to them in the form of a “Statement of Conscientious Objector Status” [or “Statement of Conscience”] before they register as CO’s.

Generally speaking, the applicant must show that moral and ethical beliefs are against participation in war, in any form; and that these beliefs have directed their life in the way traditional religious convictions of equal strength, depth, and duration have directed the lives of those whose beliefs are clearly found in traditional religious convictions.

The Selective Service Administration (SSA) defines conscientious objection as:

…one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on ground of moral or religious principles.”

The SSA goes on to answer the question ”Who Qualifies?” by saying:

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; however, 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.”

Question 1: Describe your beliefs which are the basis for your claim as a conscientious objector. If appropriate, state whether those beliefs would permit you to serve in a non-combatant position in the Armed Forces.

(In answering this question, you should describe, in some detail and as honestly as possible, the basic principles by which your life is guided).

Question 2: Describe how and when you acquired these beliefs.

(In answering this question, you should include anything of significance that helped to form your beliefs. Emphasize the role of your local church and your faith background, if applicable. Take care not to give the impression that your belief is primarily a matter of political considerations, expediency, or merely an arbitrary, personal moral code unrelated to higher values).

Question 3: Describe how your beliefs affect the way you live and the type of work you do or plan to do.

(This question allows you to demonstrate the sincerity with which you hold your beliefs. Select the best illustrations of your convictions)

Friends Peace Testimony/Bearing Witness

From A Declaration to Charles II, 1660:

“We utterly deny all outward wars and strife and fightings with outward weapons, for any end or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our testimony to the whole world. The spirit of Christ, by which we are guided, is not changeable, so as once to command us from a thing as evil and again to move unto it; and we do certainly know, and so testify to the world, that the spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ, nor for the kingdoms of this world.” (from A Declaration to Charles II, 1660, considered the seminal statement of the Quaker peace witness)

From Quaker Peace Testimony, by Mary Lou Leavitt:

On the simplest level, “testimony” means “bearing witness” and Friends’ long heritage of witnessing to peace can be found in public statements and personal reflections, in their refusal to bear arms in times of civil and international conflict, in acts of prophetic confrontation and of quiet, reconciling diplomacy. But these are merely outward and visible signs of inward conviction. This conviction springs from a living Spirit, mediated through the human experience of those trying to understand and follow its leadings. It grows afresh in every life, in every worshipping group, in every generation.

At the heart of this conviction is Friends’ experience that there is something of God—the seed of the Spirit—in all people. Quakers believe that more can be accomplished by appealing to this capacity for love and goodness, in ourselves and in others, than can be hoped for by threatening punishment or retaliation if people act badly. This is not to ignore the existence of evil. It is to recognize that there is no effective way to combat evil with weapons which harm or kill those through whom evil is working. We must turn instead, in the words of early Friends, to the “weapons of the spirit,” allowing God to reach out through us to that of God in those with whom we are in conflict. “Spiritual weapons”—love, truthsaying, nonviolence, imagination, laughter—are weapons that heal and don’t destroy. (

Asking the right question, The Ithaca Times, 12/16/2009

NPR’s Morning Edition on December 11 featured a story on how the “Rules Of Engagement Are A Dilemma for US Troops.” It noted the difficulty soldiers in Afghanistan have making a decision whether or not to “pull the trigger” on suspected insurgents, even in a situation where it is obvious that the men they were observing were preparing a roadside bomb. The Marines, in this case, did not shoot because of the risk of civilian casualties. Understandably, they expressed frustration saying that “their hands were tied” by General Stanley McChrystal’s recent directive to “exercise restraint . . . and err on the side of maturity and caution.” After all, if the insurgents had been successful, it would be the soldiers’ lives that were at risk.

It seems to me that neither the Marines’ nor the civilians’ lives would be at risk – and there would be no question about killing or not killing suspected insurgents – if our government had not sent the troops to this outpost in southern Afghanistan in the first place. We are the ones who have put both Afghans and our soldiers in harm’s way. We have escalated the insurgency. If the Marines had shot the young Afghan men planting a bomb, would there be fewer insurgents? No, no more than if the Marines had been killed in a roadside ambush, would there be fewer Marines in Afghanistan. All there would be is more dead.

The question is not whether General McChrystal has got the rules of engagement right or wrong. It is whether we should be at war in Afghanistan at all.

Garry Thomas

Ithaca, New York

Useful Links:

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO):

The CCCO’s office is no longer open, but its webpage is still active and it does have informative links, although much of the information is geared towards members of the armed forces who are considering seeking CO status and discharge from the military.

Seeley, Advice for Conscientious Objectors in the Armed Forces, CCCO, 1998

Again, this 84 page document is somewhat dated and geared towards military personnel, but it does include important material for anyone considering filing as a conscientious objector, e.g., “Hitler and Other Dictators” (pp.31-35) and “Questions Asked COs” (pp. 54-55), e.g., “Can no war be just and necessary regardless of the situation?” and “What method would you use to resist evil?”

Anyone in the military who is thinking about asking for a discharge because they are a conscientious objector should contact one of the free legal resources listed below before taking any action to initiate such a request.

Center on Conscience and War (CCAW)

phone: 202-483-2220.

CCAW provides a counseling service by mail and phone, and publishes aids for thinking out what you believe and what to do.

The CCAW’s website includes many useful links, including “Essays on Non-Violence” by the likes of Martin Luther King and Dorothy Day, and “Words on Conscience: CCW’s Collection of Statements on Conscientious Objection” from more than 40 faith-based organizations (AFSC, four Yearly Meetings, Mennonites and the Baha’i, but also statements by Jewish organizations, the National Conference of [Roman Catholic] Bishops, and the National Council of Churches).

Farmington-Scipio Regional Meeting – Conscience and War Committee (CAWC)

Contacts: Marilyn Ray – (day phone) 607-539-7778) or

Tom Joyce – 607-277-7426 or

CAWC provides trained counselors to assist with issues related to Selective Service registration; establishing if you are a Conscientious Objector to war and establishing a CO claim; discussing information about militarism in the schools and enlistment; speakers for training church and community groups; and manages the Regions Peace War Tax Witness Escrow Account..

American Friends Service Committee

Phone: 215-241-7176

AFSC provides information on Youth & Militarism and other issues related to being a conscientious objector.

GI Rights Hotline


The GI Rights Hotline provides legal assistance and information to those in any branch of the military about discharges as a conscientious objector; military discharges, grievances and complaint procedures, someone who is AWOL, and other civil rights.

National Lawyers Guild

212-740-4544 or 619-233-1701.

The National Lawyers Guild provides help with Gay/Lesbian discharges, CO discharges, and prosecution for failing to register.

Service Members Legal Defense network