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Conscientious Objection

by pacifist Wednesday, Jan. 01, 2003 at 11:30 PM

Information on Conscientious Objection. As the war rhetoric increases, and newspaper editorials appear calling for reinstating the draft, its time to review how to stand in Conscientious Objection.

the following is information from the Unitarian Universalist Association. Additional links to other organizations who support Conscientious Objectors are listed towards the end of this. As always, please verify the current status and requirements the military requires.

Facts on Military Service and Conscientious Objection

This pamphlet provides information about registration for the draft and the option of conscientious objection. It is designed to help you clarify your own moral position on war and to inform you of the steps you must take to file a conscientious objection claim.


Every American man is required by law to register for the draft within 30 days before or 29 days after his 18th birthday. Every man is subject to the draft until his 26th birthday. Anyone who willfully fails to register for the draft may face legal charges. The maximum penalty for non-registration is a fine of up to 0,000 and a sentence of up to six years in prison. As a matter of policy, the United States Justice Department rarely prosecutes late registrants and usually gives non-registrants the opportunity to register for the draft in order to avoid indictment. However, the Selective Service refuses to accept a late registration from anyone after his 26th birthday; therefore, if a man does not register for the draft before his 26th birthday, he faces a small risk of prosecution for non-registration until the five-year statutory limitation period expires. The Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO) reports that between 1980 and 1990, of the 1 million men who failed to register, only 22 have been charged and only 14 of those charged have been convicted for non-registration. None received maximum penalties.

You cannot be classified as a conscientious objector at the time you register but, rather, only if and when you are drafted. If you intend to apply for conscientious objector (CO) exemption, you must register for the draft. There is no place on the registration card for you to declare your objection to military service. Nevertheless, you may want to write on your card that you are registering as a conscientious objector. This note has no legal effect; it is a symbolic act which provides a dated record of your objection.


1. A man who fails to register may, if prosecuted and convicted, face a fine of up to 0,000 and/or a prison term of up to five years. However, according to the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, it is not the policy of the Selective Service to prosecute those who refuse to register. Since the draft was reinstated in 1980, only about 20 young men (out of thousands not to register) have been prosecuted, with none occuring after 1985.

2. Men, born after December 31, 1959, who aren't registered with Selective Service won't qualify for Federal student loans or grant programs. This includes Pell Grants, College Work Study, Guaranteed Student/Plus Loans, and National Direct Student Loans.

3. A man must be registered to be eligible for jobs in the Executive Branch of the Federal government and the U.S. Postal Service. There are restrictions on other Federal employment as well.

4. Some states have added additional penalties for those who fail to register. Such laws effect eligibility for Guaranteed Student Loans and Pell Grants, and employment with state agencies. To date, 30 states have laws regarding selective service registration.


Before you are required to register or enlist, take the time to develop and thoroughly clarify your beliefs about war through reflection, study, and conversation. You must reach your own conclusions based on your most central beliefs. You will have to explain your position if you appear before a draft board to request CO status, so it is important for you to reflect carefully on your own conclusions. The following questions may aid you in that process.

1. What are your beliefs about war? What are your beliefs about the relationship of war to peace, truth, and justice?

2. Do you believe that there are just and unjust wars?

3. Are you opposed to nuclear war, but not conventional war? Do you believe that a major conventional war could remain conventional?

4. How did you acquire these beliefs?

5. How do your beliefs affect the way you live and the type of work you do or plan to do? Can you describe specific actions or incidents that demonstrate your beliefs?

6. Do you have a deep conviction, motivated by conscience, that prevents you from taking part in armed combat? How can that best be described?

7. If you could not participate in armed combat, could you perform noncombatant duties such as medic, clerk, or cook?


If you have registered and are drafted, you can report for and accept induction as ordered, apply for an exemption, or resist the draft. This pamphlet focuses on conscientious objection (CO) exemptions. There are other exemptions granted on the grounds of hardship to dependent families or medical problems.

Anyone who cannot in conscience participate in war because of moral, ethical, religious, or a combination of religious and moral beliefs may apply for exemption from the draft. There are two kinds of CO exemptions: 1-O and 1-A-O. The 1-O exemption is awarded to people whose consciences prevent them from participating in military training and service either as a combatant or noncombatant. These people are required to do civilian work in lieu of military service. The 1-A-O is granted to people whose consciences will only allow them to participate in noncombatant military service.

Applicants for both 1-O and 1-A-O exemptions must show that their objection to participation in war is based on sincerely held religious, moral, ethical, or a combination of religious and moral beliefs. You need not belong to a religious group. Your objection can be based entirely on moral or ethical convictions that hold a meaningful place in your life. You must object to war in all forms in order to qualify as a conscientious objector. If you believe that it is necessary to participate in some kinds of war but are opposed to other wars, then you will probably not qualify as a conscientious objector. You may, however, want to apply for CO status anyway to put your views on record.

When you are drafted, you will receive an induction notice from the Selective Service. If you decide to apply for a CO exemption, you must return your request for reclassification within 10 days after your induction order is issued. Selective Service will then postpone your induction and send you a full application form, which you must complete and return by the deadline they specify on the form. This deadline will probably be 10 days after the full application form was mailed, but draft regulations do not specify any particular deadline. You will only have a few days to complete your application, so you must be prepared.

If you enlist but find that your conscience will not allow you to continue in military service, you can apply to be transferred to noncombatant duty or to be honorably discharged as a conscientious objector.


If you decide to apply for a CO exemption, you will be required to substantiate your claim of conscientious objection before your draft board. In order to establish a history of conscientious objection, you should begin to prepare a file for yourself well in advance of your claim.

Your Own CO File

Keep written notes of your beliefs about war. Explain how you acquired these beliefs and how they affect your life, work, and community involvement. Date your notes. Keep a record of the persons, books, films, lectures, associations, and experiences that have helped form your beliefs about war. Keep a record of your participation in public service, humanitarian work, or anti-war activities. Retain copies of term papers, letters to editors, letters to friends and family that express your convictions-and any evidence of choices made on the basis of your beliefs.

Register a CO card with the Central Committee for Conscientious Objection (CCCO). Record your objection to military service on your Selective Service registration form. If you are a member of a Unitarian Universalist church or fellowship, register a statement of objection with the Registry of Conscientious Objectors at the Unitarian Universalist Association. These records have no legal status, but they demonstrate that you have declared your convictions publicly and help to establish a history of objection.

Retain copies of all correspondence you receive from or send to the Selective Service. Use certified mail and return receipt requests when you send any material to Selective Service. Give copies of your CO file to your draft counselor and your family.

Letters of Reference

Request letters of support for your CO claim from religious leaders, teachers, employers, roommates, friends, or neighbors. Ask people who are familiar with your beliefs and position and can attest to your sincerity. They need not agree with your beliefs; in fact, letters from persons who do not agree with your position (e.g., active or retired military personnel) but who will attest to your moral conviction can be especially helpful. Try to obtain references from people who have known you for varying lengths of time and in various contexts.

Ask these people to write a one-page letter addressed, "To whom it may concern." Ask them to cover the following in their letter of support.

1. What is your relationship to the applicant and how long have you known him?

2. Do you believe that he is sincere in his claim as a conscientious objector?

3. What conduct of his have you observed that is consistent with the claim that he is making?

4. Do you believe that his claim is based on sincere moral, ethical, religious, or a combination of religious and moral beliefs?

Make sure that your full name and address is included on each letter of support.

UU Registry Of Conscientious Objectors

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) maintains a Registry of Conscientious Objectors to record voluntary, written statements of objection to participation in war by UU members. Such statements are made available to the appropriate authorities upon request. The UUA encourages men and women of all ages to submit statements to the CO registry for themselves and in support of draft-age members of their families. A history of conscientious objection in the family can strengthen an applicant's position with a draft board.

Statements should be accompanied by a letter from a UU minister, professional religious leader or church officer (other than applicant). The statements should verify that the registrant is an active church member. Those registrants who are children or teenagers and not yet active members should submit a letter from a minister, professional religious leader or church officer confirming an affiliation with the congregation through their parent(s). Send all material directly to Registry of Conscientious Objectors, Office of the Executive Vice President, Unitarian Universalist Association, 25 Beacon Street, Boston, MA 02108-2800.


A draft counselor can give you important assistance and assurance as you face the prospect of registration and military service. He or she will provide practical information and act as a sympathetic listener with whom you can discuss the implications of your beliefs on war and the consequences that may follow from your decisions. See a draft counselor before you make a CO claim to ensure that you know the current law and procedures surrounding CO exemptions. A Unitarian Universalist minister can help you find counseling. You can also call or write to the CCCO for a referral to a draft counselor near you.


If you have enrolled in the Delayed Entry Program (DEP), you are legally a member of the military and cannot simply send in a letter of resignation. Often people enrolled in the DEP seek help when they have only a short time before they must report for active duty. If you have DEP status and want help thinking about issues of war, the groups listed here can assist you.

For more information:


American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

National Youth and Militarism Program

1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, PA 19102

Phone: 215-241-7176

Fax: 215-241-7177



Site includes links to articles on: Recruitment and Enlistment; Dealing with the Draft; Conscientious Objection; Delayed Enlistment Program; and Help for Service Members.


Center on Conscience and War

(formerly the National Interreligious Service Board for Conscientious Objectors, or NISBCO)

1830 Connecticut Ave. NW

Washington, DC 20009

Tel: (202) 483-2220

Fax: (202) 483-1246



CCW's website also offers advice on not registering for Selective Service.

* Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO)

630 20th Street

Oakland, CA 94612

Phone: 510-465-1617

Fax: 510 465-2459 1515 Cherry St

Philadelphia, PA 19102

Phone: 215-563-8787

Fax: 215-567-2096Email:


Info on supporting and promoting individual and collective resistance to war and preparations for war.


Selective Service System

Registration Information Office

Selective Service System

Data Management Center

P.O. Box 94638

Palatine, IL 60094-4638

Phone: 847-688-6888

TTY: 847-688-2567

E-mail: Web:

Register on-line, check your status, and read answers to frequently asked questions on this official US Government site.

US Government Info and Resources from

Includes information on the risks of not registering, and the recent history and application of the draft.

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