USA: Quaker takes Selective Service to court over right to conscientious objection

On 28 July, US Quaker Tobin Jacobrown filed a law suit against the US government, claiming that, in his own words, "because of my religious beliefs, I should not be required to register for the draft unless it could be officially recognized that I claim to object to all war". According to an article in the Washington Post, the American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of Tobin D. Jacobrown, 21, in the District’s federal court. The suit asks U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to order the government to recognise conscientious objectors when men register for the draft. According to the US Military Selective Service Act, all males between the ages of 18 and 26 are required to register for compulsory military service. The Military Selective Service Act does not provide for registration as conscientious objector, or any special procedures for conscientious objectors. According to Conscience and Peace Tax International: "The significance is that no one liable to register may legally refrain from doing so on grounds of conscientious objection. Nor under the reintroduced registration system is there any way to be officially classified as claiming conscientious objector status at the time of registration, which had in fact previously been the obligatory time for lodging such a claim. The result is that those whose consciences will not permit them to register have no choice but to break the law."

Refusing to register for compulsory military service is punishable by up to 5 years' imprisonment and a USD 250,000 fine. Moreover, those who fail to register are denied federal financial aid for education and for job training. There is a limitation of five years for the bringing of a prosecution, ie. until the age of 31. In fact, historically, prosecution has generally been treated as a last resort, and has not been pursued once the legal obligation itself has been met, even belatedly. There have been no convictions for failure to register since 1985.

In the lawsuit itself, it is stated that the "Plaintiff would register with the Selective Service System if the Selective Service System would allow him to register, or otherwise officially
assert, his claim to conscientious objector status in connection with his registration for the draft. Plaintiff would not object to being 'drafted' if he were allowed to serve the nation in the field of medicine, education, environmental protection, or another non-military field.
" And: "The Selective Service System will not allow registrants to register, or otherwise officially assert, a claim to conscientious objector status in connection with their registration for the draft."

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requires federal agencies to accommodate people's religious beliefs in such cases: "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act requires the defendants to accommodate plaintiffs’ religious beliefs if their failure to do so would substantially burden plaintiff’s exercise of religion, and if they are able to do so without seriously compromising a compelling governmental interest."

According to a spokesman for Selective Service, there are no legal provisions or procedures for Selective Service to gather such information when people register. The appropriate place for people to object to military service on such grounds, he said, is before a draft board.

Sources: Yes Magazine: Registering for Peace, 6 August 2009; Washington Post: Selective Service Is Sued by Quaker, 30 July 2009; War Resisters' International: Military Service in the United States of America: Issues of Conscience and Human Rights, 2006; Conscience and Peace Tax International: Military Recruitment and Conscientious Objection in the United States of America, Briefing for Human Rights Committee Task Force, October 2005; Jacobrown vs United States of America, lawsuit, 29 July 2009