Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Where are my First Amendment rights?

Last week, after more than 8 years of discerning, I signed up for the Selective Service.

Every male resident of the United States of America, between the ages 18 and 26, have to sign up for the Selective Service, which will supposedly help in the time of a draft. (This is debatable if the Selective Service would actually help at all in the time of a draft.) If males do not to sign up, they could face jail time or fines. When the government pursued legal action against non-registrants (males who didn’t sign up for the selective service), they were highly unpopular and resulted in more males deciding not to sign up. So, in the early 1980s, Congress passed the Solomon Amendment, which prohibits non-registrants from receiving federal financial aid for college. Since then, there have been more restrictions, such as denying non-registrants access to most federal jobs. Most states have also passed laws denying non-registrants drivers licenses and barring from attending state colleges.

I believe that the Selective Service is a part of war and I oppose participating in war. My belief comes from my Quaker upbringing. In a 1660 letter to King Charles II, a group of Quakers wrote in their first statement of pacifism:

Our Principle is, and our Practices have always been, to seek peace and ensue it, and to follow after righteousness and the knowledge of God, seeking the Good and Welfare, and doing that which tends to the peace of All. We know that Wars and Fightings proceed from the Lusts of men (as James 4: 1-3), out of which Lusts the Lord hath redeemed us, and so out of the Occasion of War. The Occasion of which War, and the War itself (wherein envious men, who are lovers of themselves more than lovers of God, lust, kill, & desire to have men’s lives or estates) ariseth from the lust. All bloody Principles & Practices we (as to our own particular) do utterly deny, with all outward Wars, and Strife, and Fightings with outward Weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatsoever. And this is our Testimony to the whole World.

When I was in middle school, I sent letters to every representative and senator I could asking for them to end the Selective Service. I had hoped that the Selective Service would end before I had to sign up, so I wouldn’t have to decide whether to register or not.

Sadly the law did not change. On my 18th birthday, I thought I would make a stand and write a letter to the editor decrying my position, but I did not. Over the past eight years, I have been a conscientious objector. I have not been able to apply for federal aid for college, apply for state jobs in my home state of Missouri or most federal jobs.

During the past eight years, I started reading the Bible and I am now call myself a Quaker and a follower of Jesus. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God." (Matthew 5:9) I believe that killing people and war is against Jesus' teachings. I know people have other interpretations, but this is how I read His teachings.

I ended up violating my conscience and my religious beliefs and signing up for the selective service because in less than a month I turn 26 and I would be bar permanently from most federal jobs. I found that I have been silent about being a conscientious objector, so what is the use of holding onto a belief if I am too scared to publicly voice a belief? Also, I hope to one day be married and have a family and I don't want my decision to adversely affect my future family.

I comprised my moral and my religious beliefs against war to comply with this law. Where are my First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion?

For more information about Selective Service and Non-registrants, visit
Center on Conscience and War