Questions and Answers About
Conscientious Objection

 

 

Conscientious Objection

 

1.        What’s the legal definition of a “Conscientious Objector?”

2.     Does a person have to believe in god to be a conscientious objector?

3.        Does a person have to oppose all uses of violence to be a conscientious objector?

4.        What if I am opposed only to participation in SOME wars?

5.        Why doesn’t the government allow for selective conscientious objection?

6.        Shouldn't people follow their OWN consciences?

7.        Can Local Board members ask me whether I would have participated in past wars like World War II?

8.        What other kinds of questions are Local Board members likely to ask?

9.        What can a claim for CO status NOT be based on?

10.       If I go before my Local Board asking for CO status, can I expect a fair hearing?
 

11.       When should I start preparing my case as a conscientious objector?

12.       What should I do if I’ve already registered with Selective Service, but didn’t write somewhere on my registration form that I am a conscientious objector to participation in all forms of war?

13.       What’s the purpose of telling Selective Service that I am a conscientious objector before they need to know it, and of taking unusual steps to document that I’ve done so?

14.       Besides telling Selective Service at the earliest possible date that I am a conscientious objector, what else can I do to build up my case file for obtaining recognition as a CO in the event of a draft?

15.       Why should I do a lot of work to build up my CO file while I’m still in high school? I already get a lot of work in school and we don’t even have a draft now.

16.       What if I present a case for CO status and lose, including all my appeals?

17.       If I leave the country to evade induction, how would I ever be able to return without going to jail?

18.       If I am the kind of CO that objects even to a non-combatant role in the military, what kind of alternate service would I be required to do?

19.       How would I get assigned to my alternative service job?

20.       How long would my alternative service last?

 

 

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION

 

1.  What’s the legal definition of a “Conscientious Objector?”
 

 

 

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2.  Does a person have to believe in god to be a conscientious objector?

           

A person does NOT have to believe in god to be a conscientious objector (CO), and does NOT have to belong to a religion that traditionally opposes war.
 

In fact, a person can be a conscientious objector without being a member of ANY religion.  He can be a conscientious objector by reason of moral and ethical beliefs that have the same force in his life as traditional religious beliefs have in the lives of others.

 

 

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3.  Does a person have to oppose all uses of violence to be a conscientious objector?

 

Although many COs hold absolutely to the principle of nonviolence, you don’t have to be committed to nonviolence or non-resistance in every situation in order to be a CO. You don’t have to oppose all uses of force. You can believe in police powers, self defense, and even the taking of human life.

 

However, being a CO requires that a person be conscientiously opposed to the planned and organized killing that takes place in warfare.

 

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4.  What if I am opposed only to participation in SOME wars?
 

Objecting to some wars, but not others is called “selective conscientious objection.”

 

Under U.S. law, you can NOT be given conscientious objector status if you say that you would participate in a particular war, but not others. For CO status, you must honestly say that you would not participate in ANY wars you might reasonably be called upon to fight in today’s world.

 

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5.  Why doesn’t the government allow for selective conscientious objection?
 

Most governments with conscription don’t allow for selective conscientious objection.

If a government allowed people to pick and choose their wars, then a war might come along that would not have enough young men willing to fight it. That would be bad for that government’s leaders, and bad for businesses that profit from wars.

 

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6.  Shouldn’t people follow their OWN consciences?


Yes, MANY important religions teach the primacy of conscience, that the informed conscience, even though not perfect, is the best guide to behavior.

 

But, in the important matter of objecting only to some wars, the government places the consciences of the country’s leaders above yours. Selective conscientious objection is currently not allowed in the United States. Many people think this is wrong and ought to be changed.

 

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7.  Can Local Board members ask me whether I would have participated in past wars, like World War II?

 

Yes, a favorite question of Local Board members to CO claimants is whether they would have fought against Adolph Hitler, or would fight against a tyrant like him today. Another favorite of Local Board members is the “Pearl Harbor question” (whether you would fight if the nation were attacked like it was at Pearl Harbor).

 

But you cannot be required to know the facts of past wars, or how you would have acted in the past. You only need to know that you are opposed to participation in ANY wars you could reasonably be asked to fight in today’s world.

 

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8.  What other kinds of questions are the Local Board members likely to ask?
 

 

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9.  What can a claim for CO status NOT be based on?
 

       You can NOT receive CO status if your claim is based on:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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10.  If I go before my Local Board asking for CO status, can I expect a fair hearing?
 

Yes, you almost certainly will receive a fair hearing. The Local Boards have no interest in forcing real COs into military service. The military doesn’t want them. The military believes COs make bad soldiers.

 

The draft board will be trying to judge you fairly. But, it does have a difficult job! It faces some CO claimants who are really objecting because of anxiety or inconvenience.

 

To help your draft board make the correct decision in your case, you should make some preparations.

 

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11.  When should I start preparing my case as a conscientious objector?
 

AS SOON AS YOU DECIDE THAT YOU ARE A CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR, you should let other people know.
 

If you are 18 years old and are registering with Selective Service, you should write on the form, “I am a conscientious objector to participation in war in any form.” The form does not provide a place to write that in. Just find a place on the form, and do it! Then, mail the registration form to Selective Service, and mail photocopies to yourself and someone you trust. Mail them all “registered mail, return receipt requested.” When your own copy arrives in the mail, do not open it, but put it in a safe place along with the receipt obtained from Selective Service.

 

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12.  What should I do if I’ve already registered with Selective Service, but didn’t write somewhere on my registration form that I am a conscientious objector to participation  in all forms of war?
 

Some people in that position have gotten a new form and re-registered with Selective Service with the CO statement on it. But it isn’t necessary to re-register.

 

Instead, you could just document your claim to be a CO by writing a letter to the same address your registration went to. If you write a letter, be sure to do the following: (1) photocopy it, (2) mail copies to a friend and yourself, (3) mail the original and the copies “registered mail, return receipt requested,” (4) do not open yours when it arrives, and (5) keep the one mailed to you in a safe place along with all the return receipts obtained via the
U.S. Postal Service.

 

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13.  What’s the purpose of telling Selective Service that I am a conscientious objector before they need to know it, and of taking unusual steps to document that I’ve done so?
 

Following that procedure would help you to later prove that you were a conscientious objector at least as far back as the date you mailed the registration form or letter on which you notified Selective Service that you were a conscientious objector.

 

During your interview with the members of your Local Board, they will want to know with certainty that you didn’t suddenly become a CO when you received your notice to report to a Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS). [Remember, some people DO suddenly make their claims for conscientious objector status out of fear, anxiety, or the inconvenience of serving. You can help your case by being able to prove that you are not among that group.]

 

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14.  Besides telling Selective Service at the earliest possible date that I am a conscientious objector, what else can I do to build up my case file for obtaining recognition as a CO in the event of a draft?

 

There are several other things you could do! Let’s number them, taking the advice (see questions 79-81) about handling the registration form, or letter, as Recommendation #1.


 

     Recommendation # 2

 

Write and date a statement of beliefs that explains why, how, when, where, etc., you became a CO. List anything that could have influenced your beliefs against war and killing, such as religion, films, books, events you attended, etc. Give the dated statement to some friends, and perhaps the minister of your church. Ask those people to keep it for you.

 

To help you write your statement of beliefs, consider these three questions on SS Form 22 which must be answered by all conscientious objector claimants:

 

      Part II (Exactly as found on SSS Form 22)

           

Prepare and attach written responses to the information requested below.  If you wish, you may attach letters from persons who know you and are familiar with your beliefs.  You may also attach any other pertinent information you would like the Local Board to consider.


1. Describe your beliefs which are the reasons for you claiming conscientious objection to combatant military training and service or to all military training and service.

 

2. Describe how and when you acquired these beliefs.  Your answer may include such information as the influence of family members or other persons; training, if applicable; your personal experiences; membership in organizations; books and readings which influenced you.

 

3. Explain what most clearly shows that your beliefs are deeply held.  You may wish to include a description of how your beliefs affect the way you live.

 

    

     Recommendation #3

          

Find at least 3 people (six is better) who know you very well who can write a letter on your behalf supporting your beliefs as a CO.

 

Remember, if there is a draft, CO claimants would need to have a minimum of three credible people write letters on their behalf, supporting their claims to be conscientious objectors. It is usually better if the three people know you in different ways and don’t know each other.

 

 

     Recommendation #4

 

Write a letter to the CCCO (Central Committee for Conscientious Objection, 1515 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102) explaining that you are a CO. Keep a copy for yourself, with the receipt of it being mailed. CCCO doesn't archive these letters, but they will send you a letter confirming they have received your letter. Keep that letter from CCCO as part of your CO file. You can send a copy of your CO file to the Center on Conscience & War
(CCW) to be archived.

 

 

     Recommendation #5

 

Find sites on the Internet on which you can register that you are a conscientious objector to participating in war in any form.

 

     

     Recommendation #6

 

If you go to any anti-war events, document them somehow as proof that you went; keep the flyers, have your photo taken at the event, etc.

 

Put correct dates on the pictures, and, if possible, get the names of other people in the pictures.

 

 

     Recommendation #7

 

Keep careful track of your activities in the area of promoting peace and living peacefully yourself.

 

Remember that your local draft board will want to be persuaded that the beliefs prompting you to seek CO status are deeply held, and that they have affected the way you've been living.

 

 

     Recommendation #8

 

Keep it in mind that you need to build a paper trail and document everything possible that could help define you as a person who could not go to war. Your local draft board will want to see that you are genuinely opposed to war, and not just somebody who doesn't want to fight.

 

     Recommendation #9

 

Get the more important documents in the paper trail you are building notarized to prove the dates and signatures on them are authentic.

 

 

     Recommendation #10
 

Put all your documents in a safe place, and have someone else you trust keep a backup copy of your file. If you get drafted, you can present your CO claim file to your local draft board and your chances of getting a CO classification will be much better.

 

 

     Recommendation #11


Stay in touch with the Center on Conscience & War (CCW) website for more tips and information.
http://www.CenterOnConscience.org

 

 

     Recommendation #12

 

Stay in touch with the Central Committee on Conscientious Objection (CCCO) website for more tips and information.

http://www.objector.org/

 

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15.  Why should I do a lot of work to build up my CO file while I’m still in high school? I already get a lot of work in school and we don’t even have a draft now.

 

 

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16.  What if I present a case for CO status and lose, including all my appeals?
 

Sadly, you would be placed in the position of having to make some awful choices. However, you would not be alone! There are religious groups and other organizations that would give you support!

 

Many conscientious objectors in past U.S. history have faced the same choices you would face. Thousands of conscientious objectors have chosen prison rather than to violate their consciences by going to war. Thousands of others have temporarily or permanently fled the country whose government tried to force them to violate their consciences.

 

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17.  If I leave the country to evade induction, how would I ever be able to return without going to jail?

           

  An attitude of forgiveness is usually present shortly after a war.

 

 

 

 

Under President Ford’s amnesty, the draft evaders would be required to do two years of community service. Deserters would be required to do two years service in whatever branch of the service they had deserted from.

 

          Few people took up President Ford’s offer of conditional amnesty.

 

 

President Carter’s pardon meant the government was giving up forever the right to prosecute what the administration said were hundreds of thousands of draft-dodgers.

 

Even though there is a considerable history of amnesties and pardons for those who have evaded military service in the past, there is no guarantee of pardons or amnesties for those who evade military service in the future.

 

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18.  Suppose I am the kind of CO that objects even to a non-combat role in the military. What kind of alternate service would I be required to do?

       

 Men classified 1-O would be assigned to work in the national interest, such as in:

 

 

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19.  How would I get assigned to my alternative service job?
 

Conscientious Objectors opposed to serving in the military would be placed in the Selective Service Alternative Service Program. This program attempts to match COs with local employers, and Selective Service could assign you to a qualifying job.

 

However, conscientious objectors in the past have often been allowed to find qualifying jobs on their own, and then have them approved by Selective Service. And some churches and other sympathetic groups traditionally have helped men classified I-O to find jobs the Selective Service system would accept.

 

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20.  How long would my alternative service last?

 

Length of service in the program would equal the amount of time a man would have served in the military, usually 24 months.

 

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