April 1, 2016

Abolish draft registration

Photo by Somchai Kongkamsri

With the combat restriction for women in the US Armed Forces now lifted, discussion of draft registration is back in the news, the courts, and the halls of Congress. But the problems with Selective Service System (SSS) registration go much deeper than gender equality. There is little political interest in bringing back the draft. Yet draft registration remains a burden upon our nation’s young men—and now, potentially our young women as well.

The extrajudicial penalties imposed upon those who choose not to or fail to register make life more difficult for many who already are marginalized, and they particularly target conscientious objectors who believe that registering with Selective Service is a form of participating in war.

In 1980 President Carter reinstated registration. This is still the law of the land today.

The penalties for failure to register are potentially quite severe: it is a federal felony carrying a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Since 1980 millions of young men have violated the law by failing to register. Of those who did register, millions more violated the law by failing to register during the time period prescribed in the law. But since 1980 a grand total of just 20 people have been prosecuted for failure to register. Almost all of those prosecuted were conscientious objectors who publicly asserted their non-registration as a religious, conscientious, or political statement.

The Church of the Brethren encourages young people to seriously consider conscientious objection. Learn more at www.brethren.org/CO.

In response, beginning in 1982, the federal government enacted punitive legislation and policies designed to coerce people to register. These laws, commonly called “Solomon” laws after the member of Congress who first introduced them, mandated non-registrants be denied the following: federal financial aid to college students, federal job training, employment with federal executive agencies, citizenship to immigrants.

Selective Service has stated consistently that their goal is to increase registration rates, not prosecute non-registrants. They happily accept late registrations until one turns 26, after which time it is no longer legally or administratively possible to register. Because there is a five-year statute of limitations for violations of the Selective Service law, once a non-registrant turns 31 he can no longer be prosecuted, yet the denial of federal financial aid, job training, and employment extends throughout his life.

Former Selective Service director Gil Coronado observed, “If we are not successful in reminding men in the inner cities about their registration obligation, especially minority and immigrant men, they will miss out on opportunities to achieve the American dream. They will lose eligibility for college loans and grants, government jobs, job training, and for registration-age immigrants, citizenship. Unless we are successful in achieving high registration compliance, America may be on the verge of creating a permanent underclass.”

Rather than rescind this unpopular and burdensome law, recent political attention has been focused on extending it to women. In early February the Draft America’s Daughters Act was introduced in the House of Representatives.

Now that women are no longer barred from combat, the reason the Supreme Court allowed a male-only registration system no longer exists. Several court cases in recent years have challenged the male-only draft on constitutional “equal protection” grounds, and one of those cases was argued before the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals on Dec. 8, 2015. On Feb. 19, the court of appeals rejected the lower court’s technical reasons for dismissing the case and sent it back for further consideration.

The time is ripe to challenge the registration system—not add women of conscience (or any other women) to the group being punished. On Feb. 10, HR 4523 was introduced in the House. It would repeal the Military Selective Service Act, abolishing the registration requirement for everyone, while requiring that “a person may not be denied a right, privilege, benefit, or employment position under Federal law” for having refused or failed to register before the repeal. A petition is now circulating to support this sensible and timely effort.

Bill Galvin and Maria Santelli are staff of the Center on Conscience and War. CCW was founded in 1940 by the historic peace churches (Church of the Brethren, Mennonites, and Quakers).