The Draft and Conscientious Objection

Selective Service Registration, the Draft, and Conscientious Objection

Summary by John Huyler 

The Quaker Peace Testimony has been a foundational Quaker Testimony since the mid-1600’s.   Today, most American young men likely have not thought about conscientious objection and are registered for the Selective Service automatically when they first get a driver’s license, or they register voluntarily by filing the required documents at age 18.  Young Quakers are unusual as they likely have been exposed to the Peace Testimony and the concept of conscientious objection to war for their entire lives.   

Young men, women and their families should discuss the moral and practical implications of the requirement to register for the Selective Service and determine the actions to take or not take accordingly.

Selective Service Registration

Federal law:  “Almost all male U.S. citizens and male immigrants, who are 18 through 25, are required to register with Selective Service.”  (SS Registration ref.)

The exceptions:  Males already on track for or in the military, men who are “confined,” individuals who are “born female and have a sex change,” and, as noted above, all females.

Young men must register within 30 days of their 18th birthday.

Connection to Colorado driver’s license: “A person age 18 through age 25, who is required to be registered with Selective Service under federal law and who applies for a state driver’s license or renewal, permit, or state I.D. card, is automatically registered with the Selective Service System.”  (Colorado DMV ref.)

For University of Colorado registration:  “The Selective Service registration requirement applies to all male U.S. citizens and male immigrants residing in the United States who are 18 through 25 years of age.”  Failure to submit the Selective Service registration form “will result in a hold being placed on your account, preventing you from enrolling in classes.”  (Univ. of Colo. ref.)

”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 Federal Pell Grants, Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants (FSEOG), Direct Stafford Loans/Plus Loans, National Direct Student Loans, and College Work Study.”

Jobs in the Executive Branch of the Federal government, the U.S. Postal Service and training through the Workforce Investment Act are only open to those men who have registered.

Also from the SS, “Contrary to popular belief, ‘only sons,’ ‘the last son to carry the family name,’ and ‘sole surviving sons’ must register and they can be drafted.”

The main source of this summary is where much more background and detail exist.

Conscientious Objection and the Draft

There are various actions that individual men, their families and friends can take in response to the Selective Service.   Deciding whether you are a conscientious objector, a selective conscientious objector or neither is a serious matter that deserves long and thoughtful consideration in consultation with (F)friends and family. 

“Today, ALL conscientious objectors are still required to register with the Selective Service System. A conscientious objector is one who is opposed to serving in the armed forces and/or bearing arms on the grounds of moral or religious principles.” (Conscientious Objector ref.)

The SS website states, “No one has been drafted since 1973, and it would require an act of Congress to reinstate the draft.”

Currently, there is no formal way for a man to register as a conscientious objector with the Selective Service.  He can apply only after a draft is established: “…once a man gets a notice that he has been found qualified for military service, he has the opportunity to make a claim for classification as a conscientious objector (CO).  A registrant making a claim for Conscientious Objection is required to appear before his local board to explain his beliefs.” 

This short video suggests establishing a record of your moral or religious grounds for conscientious objection.


Boulder Meeting’s library contains numerous books and pamphlets that can provide food for thought, discussion and decisions.   In the absence of a draft the specter of being conscripted into the armed forces may seem extremely remote.  Nevertheless, some young Quakers, as a matter of conscience more than practicality, are moved to formulate, write up and submit a record of their beliefs as conscientious objectors.  Such an action needs to be done systematically and carefully.  Fortunately, significant resources can be found online.  Places to begin include:

Various members and attenders of Boulder Friends Meeting have faced decisions about conscientious objection.  If you are a young man faced with registering with the Selective Service or are considering enlisting or signing up for ROTC, as an initial point of contact you can email John Huyler,


‘Conscientious Objector’

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I shall die, but 
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall; 
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself: 
I will not give him a leg up.