Selective Service System
Currently, people join the military voluntarily. But at one time, young men were also drafted into military service. They were required to register with the Selective Service System (SSS) at age 18. When new soldiers were needed, names were selected by lottery from the SSS list, and those selected were inducted into the Army.
There is no longer a draft. But the requirement to register with the Selective Service System remains — just in case a draft is needed in the future. If you are deciding whether or not to register, read on — especially if you think you might be a conscientious objector (CO) to war.
Under current law, young men aged 18-25 must register with — place their names on a list maintained by — the Selective Service System (SSS). Citizens must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. Non-citizens must also register, unless they’re in the country on a student visa or visitor’s visa. (Check the SSS web site for more detailed information on registration requirements.)
Refusing to register is against the law. The penalty is a fine up to $250,000 and up to 5 years in jail. However, a large number of people have not registered and, since the mid 1980s, no one has been prosecuted. But non-registrants can be denied government jobs and financial aid for college. Immigrants can be barred from becoming citizens. In addition, many states impose restrictions on non-registrants, such as denying them a driver’s license. (Click here for a state-by-state list of benefits that are denied to non-registrants.)
Conscientious Objection to War
If you think you might be a conscientious objector (CO) to war, you can register with a protest and begin building your case for CO status now.
Congress will enact a draft only in a crisis, when more soldiers are required than the volunteer military can supply. During a crisis there is enormous government and social pressure to enlist. The time provided for CO applications will be very short. The application process may be difficult, and it’s always a hassle to collect documentation for a CO application and draft board hearing.
Preparing and documenting a CO application will be difficult in a military crisis; it’s worse when a person is in the military and doesn’t want to be there. It’s a lot easier to start collecting documentation of one’s beliefs and actions early. Friends, teachers and family can help. You can start now. (Details below)
The strategy has three steps: (1) Register with a protest. (2) Start a history file. And (3) know your backup.
- Register with a protest: Going to jail or paying a fine for non-registration is not recommended. The battle is not with an innocuous list, but with a potential Draft Board and its decision – prepare for and target a potential Draft Board. RCNV recommends that eligible young men register or re-register with the Selective Service System.
- Start a history file: Start a file that documents your belief and behavior that opposes institutional and other violence. First step: make a chronology (dates and brief description) of everything in your life pertaining to your belief, from earliest days of awakening belief to the present – school essays, books read, participation in peace (and other) demonstrations, spiritual awakening/conversion (religious, philosophical, vegetarianism, environmentalism), family events, belief-sharing conversations with friends/parents/relatives/teachers, etc. Everything! Let friends help you recall events.
- Know your backup: When a draft is enacted, CO applicants want to immediately obtain accurate counsel about the unknown, unfolding “changing ground” of Selective Service and military draft practices. Know your CO “backup” organization. Wherever you live or move, know the location and contact information of an organization qualified to provide experienced counsel about Selective Service procedures. Start the search for a “backup” using the list of support organizations on this site.
Get a registration form. Some post offices still have them; many don’t. Don’t use the Selective Service web registration; there is no way to indicate objection to military service.
Complete the form. Then — using red ink (it shows up and duplicates well in a copy machine) — boldly write beliefs (i.e., “I am opposed to war” and “I am a Conscientious Objector to war” and “no war”, etc.) in the registration card margins and open spaces. Make 3 copies. (Now you have the original and 3 copies.)
Put the original in an envelope, address the envelope to Selective Service. Go to the post office and send the envelope with a signed Return Receipt (the green one that requires the recipient to return a signed receipt that they got it). When the signed receipt is returned to you, staple it to a copy of your registration card (copy #1). This is your proof that they received your specially decorated protest registration.
Put copy #2 in an envelope addressed to yourself & mail it. When you receive it, do not open it; file it. This is post-mark dated back-up evidence of your original filing with Selective Service. Keep it in case it is needed as evidence in a hearing.[Tip -- As a rule, always get a signed return receipt for ALL government correspondence!] [Tip -- When you change address always notify the selective service of the change. In the case of a draft it is likely there will be a very limited number of days for a person to submit a formal CO application; you want to get your mailed notice right away.]
Put these documents in your new Protest History File.
Collect documentation for the chronology. Get signed, dated letters/documents from witnesses. You will need to ask friends, parents, teachers/mentors and relatives for signed letters (which also contain contact info: phone, address) describing and confirming what happened – work, discussions, reading, writing, volunteering for peace organizations, behavior, etc. Find and copy old photos, press articles, videos, drawings, personal ledger, poetry, e-mails, essays, personal letters – anything that dates and confirms beliefs and behavior.[Tip -- It is law that CO status may now be based not only on religious belief but also ethical, moral or philosophical belief. Previous Draft Boards were more likely to approve CO applicants that can document a sustained belief accompanied by behavior consistent with that belief.] [Tip -- Being a CO is about opposing governmental and other institutional violence. When you are asked "Would you commit violence to protect your sister/brother/lover?" declare "The question is irrelevant; I am opposed to government sanctioned institutional violence." Personal belief or behavior opposing other forms of violence may support opposition to institutional violence. However, stay focused on "institutional violence."]
You can get more information on Selective Service registration from the following web sites:
- Advice to Youth Facing Selective Service Registration (The Center on Conscience & War)
- Registration for the Draft (PDF) (American Friends Service Committee)
- Immigrants and Selective Service registration (American Friends Service Committee)
- Selective Service System (government site)
GI Rights Hotline