By Andrew V. Ste. Marie
The Selective Service System (SSS) is the government agency in charge of the draft in the United States. Currently, men ages 18-25 are required by law to register with the SSS for the draft. This is not the same thing as signing up for military service, but is only signing up for the draft. Men are required to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. There is no way to sign up as a conscientious objector (CO), as the government does not care who is or is not a CO if there is no draft. The CO process begins only after 1) a draft has been begun and 2) you have been drafted. It is a felony to fail to register, and you may be imprisoned for five years, fined up to $250,000, or both.
SSS sign-up forms should be available at your local post office. You can sign up online, but doing it over the mail is recommended for COs, in order to retain additional proof of your CO convictions.
The SSS form has blocks for birthdate, gender, social security number, name, address, date, and signature. In between these blocks, find a white space and write in all capital letters: I AM A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR TO WAR IN ANY FORM. Make a photocopy of this form and mail the photocopy to yourself. When you receive it, do not open it – store it away in a file with the rest of your CO information. Send the original to the SSS.
A few weeks after sending in your registration, you will receive a confirmation from the SSS that they received your completed form, and they will give you your Selective Service Number. Keep this information. You will need it if a draft is ever begun.
Next, you must take care to document your beliefs NOW while there is no draft in progress. The draft system works quickly enough that if you wait until one has started, it may be too late to build a CO file! Here are the steps to take:
- Contact Christian Aid Ministries and ask for a copy of their Draft Information Manual, which they will be happy to send you for free. It has much detailed information about the current draft laws.
- Settle in your own heart before God what you believe about war, peace, and nonresistance, as well as knowing in yourself what you may conscientiously do in harmony with the Scriptures. For instance, is noncombatant service acceptable, or a compromise?
- Be prepared to die for your beliefs, if necessary.
- Write a brief statement explaining why you stand opposed to “war in any form.” This is not a doctrinal treatise, but a brief statement of your beliefs and what you can or cannot do because of them. (Mine ran about five handwritten pages.) Make a photocopy of this and mail it to yourself, then store the photocopy, unopened, in your CO file. This is to provide dated proof of your convictions. (The importance of not opening such documents is because they will be undisturbed with the postmark on the outside – proof positive of the age of the enclosed document.)
- For additional dated proof, send such a statement to The Witness. We will be glad to help you out by publishing it. We will send you a copy of the issue in which your letter appears for you to put in your file, unopened.
- Find several people you know who can write a “Letter of Support” for you. This letter is not a letter of support for your position, but a statement that the person writing knows you and supports your claim that your CO status is due to a sincerely held belief (rather than expediency). Church leaders, friends, acquaintances, employers, co-workers – try to find a wide sampling of people who know you well enough to support your claim to sincerity. Finding one or two people who are not nonresistant, but believe you are sincere in your nonresistance, is a good thing.
- Be sure to give your letter-writers a photocopy of page 45 from the Draft Information Manual, which explains what the letter should include.
- Ask your letter-writers to mail you two copies of their letter – one to put in your file, unopened, and one to open and read. It is important to pre-screen the letters before using them in a CO case because a poorly written letter could hurt your case rather than helping it.
- Walk close to the Lord and stay surrendered to His will and continued work in your life – whether or not a draft should ever come to test your convictions.
Young women, do not think that this will never apply to you. The Selective Service law currently states that “male persons” must register and may be drafted, but the constitutionality of excluding women from the draft has been tested in the courts. In 1981, Supreme Court decision Rostker vs. Goldberg decided that requiring only men to register was not a violation of the Constitution’s due process clause. However, in 1994, the Department of Defense (DoD) revisited the issue and noted that in prior wars, the draft was primarily used to supply the Army with ground combat troops. At the time, there was a policy of excluding women from such positions, thus, excluding them from the draft was still reasonable, in the DoD’s view.
However, very recent legislation has opened front-line combat positions to women. Thus, since the DoD’s reason for excluding women from the draft is gone, it will probably not be long before women ages 18-25 will be required to sign up for the draft, just like men. It is probably advisable for young women in that age range to prepare now for this possibility, going through all of the steps noted above EXCEPT for preparing and sending in an SSS registration form.