Resolution Concerning Peace-time Draft Registration and Conscientious Objectors
Whereas, Many young men of the United States and its territories, some in response to religious convictions, have chosen not to register for the draft as required by federal law; and
Whereas, There is inadequate provision for declaring one's conscientious objection to military service under the present provisions and administration of the Military Selective Service Act, because:
—it does not provide opportunity, as did previous registration, to declare one's status as a conscientious objector as an integral part of the registration process; and
—it provides only fifteen days from the mailing of a draft induction notice for establishing a sufficient case for conscientious objector status, a clearly inadequate time based on the experiences of conscientious objectors in the past; and
Whereas, The present administration of the Act is aimed at selective and discriminatory punitive action against young men who choose not to register;
—by selectively prosecuting those who have been most outspoken about their opposition to the draft and about their reasons of conscience for non-registration (Note: one federal judge threw out a conviction on the basis that such selective prosecution violated constitutionally protected rights, and other cases are being appealed on the same grounds);
—by requiring compliance with the registration act in order to be eligible for federal financial aid, a practice which discriminates against low income male students; and
Whereas, The need for a peace-time draft registration has not been demonstrated; and
Whereas, A peace-time draft registration directs our focus and expenditures toward war when they need to be on peace;
Therefore, Be it Resolved, That the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) meeting in San Antonio, Texas, September 23-28, 1983, direct the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to convey this resolution to the President of the United States, the Secretary of Defense and the relevant committees of
Congress with the following recommendations:
1. that the Executive and Legislative branches take all steps within its power to end peace-time draft registration, and;
2. that the following steps be taken immediately, pending the termination of the peace-time registration
—to make provision for registration as a conscientious objector and for adequate time to certify this position prior to induction notice;
—to rescind the Solomon amendment which denies federal educational aid to young men who have not complied with the registration law;
—to cease the selective prosecution of non-registrants. (Adopted by the General Assembly, 1983)
For further information, contact: Homeland Ministries, Center for Education and Mission, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206; www.disciples.org
(ITEM FOR REFLECTION AND RESEARCH)
HEALING AND PREVENTING MORAL INJURY IN A TIME OF WAR Proposal for Reflection and Research:
First Christian Church, Oakland, California and Park Avenue Christian Church, New York, New York ask that the General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada, meeting, July 9 – 13, 2011, in Nashville, Tennessee, accept “Healing and Prevention of Moral Injury” as an item for Reflection and Research during the 2011-2013 biennium. This process would be accountable by report to the Administrative Committee, the General Board, and the 2013 General Assembly. This process would allow the Church to engage in reflection, prayer, research, and education around the concept of moral injury. According to section 2.4 of the Special Rules of Procedure for the General Assembly, the Administrative Committee would work with the submitters of this item in developing ways for members of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to:
1) Study and discuss the “The Truth Commission on Conscience in War: A Report” and the National Council of Churches of Christ USA study document “Christian Understanding of War in an Age of Terror(ism),” as well as information about moral injury at www.conscienceinwar.org;
2) Undertake a study of the role of religious communities in healing moral injury, addressing the needs of returning veterans, and utilizing the resources and rituals within our religious tradition that can help veterans to make restitution, be restored to society, and receive forgiveness;
3) Reach out to our religious neighbors of many faiths to share our various
Traditions’ understandings of moral injury and restitution and join in common cause to create greater protection for moral conscience in the Armed Services as a means to prevent some cases of moral injury; and
4) Encourage ministers with standing, military chaplains, and seminarians seeking to become religious leaders, to become trained in Christian teaching about the moral conduct of war, research on moral injury, and the role of religious communities in healing moral injury.
The capacity for moral understanding and the will to do what is right affirm the divine image in humanity. Instruction in moral principles and the guarding of moral conscience are crucial dimensions of Christian faith, dimensions found in every religious tradition. In difficult situations, such as war or other times of extremity, moral decision making can be agonizing and carry life or death consequences. In such extremities, the guarding of moral conscience is crucial to faith. As General Assembly Resolution 0728, states:
The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) affirms the God-given right of
military service but who, Iraq, realizing that this
offers moral support to men and women who volunteered for on the grounds of Christian conviction, refuse deployment to
action may subject them to military discipline.
Under the conditions of war, love of country, duty in military service and Christian faith may clash, and nothing is more devastating to the soul than the knowledge of having violated one’s core moral values, an awareness of failure the Christian tradition has called “mortal sin.” Such an awareness of sin and the self-condemnation it elicits threaten the soul as well as the physical life of a soldier. Moral suicide can lead to physical suicide.
Suicide rates among active duty military, which have been climbing since 2003, are at unprecedented rates; in some cases, such as the Marines and Army, the annual rate in 2009 was double the 2006 rate. In addition, veterans constitute twenty percent of all U.S. suicides, while veterans are fewer than ten percent of the population. The Veterans Administration continues to attempt to stem the tide of veteran suicides, an average of eighteen a day, with little success; among the six thousand suicides a year, an especially large number are among veterans under age 35, even though fewer than one percent of Americans now serve in the military.
Since colonial times, an individual’s choice to refuse military service for reasons of faith has been allowed to members of pacifist traditions, a right of free practice of religion granted in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. CO status is not a right of law, but a privilege granted by military regulations, rather than through legislation. The Pentagon has occasionally suspended granting CO status, as it did briefly in 1991 during the Persian Gulf War. In addition, the requirements for CO status used today have not been revised since the Vietnam War and are structured on the basis of conscription. Nonetheless, the military continues to grant CO rights while having an all volunteer military.
In 1971, the U.S. Supreme Court in Gillette v. United States, 401 US 437, expanded Department of Defense regulations governing Conscientious Objection to non- religious moral conscience, while simultaneously limiting CO status to objection to “war in any form.” This decision protected the religious consciences of pacifists and those who object to all wars. Yet it denied this same protection to the vast majority of religious people who follow moral principles such as just war. To be regarded as just, a war must pass all the following criteria:
It must be defensive, the principle of just cause;
It must be declared by a competent authority;
It must have the right intention to serve justice and lead to peace;
It must have a chance to succeed in its intentions;
It must uphold non-combatant immunity by protecting civilians;
It must be a last resort after all other measures to resolve a conflict have been
It must be proportional and result in more good than harm.
Those who voluntarily enlist in military service are persons of conscience who want to serve their country honorably, and they undertake military service for many legitimate reasons. Those who serve in the U.S. Armed Services are taught that moral conscience in war is crucial. They are instructed in the principles of just war in basic training and the war colleges. Such principles inform United Nations regulations on the conduct of war, including the Geneva Conventions and Nuremberg Principles, which require the exercise of individual moral conscience in war. However, if an individual refuses to deploy because a war violates his or her moral conscience, the consequences are sanctions, court martial, prison, and/or dishonorable discharge. Those who apply for CO status are currently required to prove a “crystallization of conscience,” a process by which internal changes in conscience lead an individual to oppose to all wars.
With various limitations on the rights of religious and moral conscience in war and ambiguities in the military regulations governing CO status, many in military service are denied the right to exercise moral conscience. Those in the Armed Services who deem a particular war unjust, illegal, and/or immoral and who refuse to deploy face serious, career- ending punishments because objection to a particular war, sometimes called selective conscientious objection (SCO), is not allowed and is prosecuted as a punishable offense. These consequences mean that what the military itself teaches and international agreements uphold, the military punishes. According to Col. Herman Keizer, ret., a military chaplain for 34 years and former Executive Director of the Armed Forces Chaplains Board, Department of Defense, and Command Chaplain of the United States European Command, the teaching of just war without a means to apply it creates a major, irresolvable moral conflict for individuals who oppose a particular war but are required to fight it.
On March 21, 2010, the Truth Commission on Conscience in War held a public hearing at the Riverside Church, NY, to examine how better to protect religious and moral conscience in war. Sixty -five co-sponsoring organizations (listed below) appointed seventy commissioners—religious leaders, military chaplains, veterans, theological educators, nonprofit organization leaders, artists, and mental health professionals—who attended the hearing and are also listed below. They receive testimony (videos are posted at www.conscienceinwar.org) from:
veterans who have served in Afghanistan and Iraq,
a Gold Star mother,
U.S. Army colonel (ret.), Vietnam veteran, and a military chaplain for 34
Jewish, Christian, and Muslim experts on religious ideas of just war,
an attorney specializing in military regulations governing Conscientious Objection,
a philosopher of war, former Marine, and a veteran of Vietnam,
a Pulitzer Prize-winning war correspondent, and
a Veterans Administration psychiatrist and MacArthur Fellow, who is a leading expert
Each of the fourteen testifiers discussed service in war and moral conscience.
Commission members discussed the testimony and additional information from
Veterans Administration mental health professionals about an injury of war newly identified in December 2009 as “moral injury.” The VA clinicians define moral injury as the devastating negative consequences of “perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.” Research on moral injury indicates it is a significant contributor to clinical depression, addiction, violent behavior, and suicide, though its preliminary status means moral injury remains off the official list of injuries treated by VA clinicians.
Moral injury was identified as both a contributing and an aggravating factor to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but unlike PTSD, it involves a conscious moral dimension and is sometimes called “spiritual injury.” It can occur because a soldier witnesses or commits an atrocity in a war he or she supports, such as killing civilians; it can occur in the aftermath of a war when veterans morally re-evaluate participation in a war they conclude was unjust; and it can occur when soldiers are forced to deploy in a war they deeply believe is wrong.
On November 11, 2010, the Truth Commission released its report at an Interfaith
Service to Honor Moral Conscience, hosted by National City Christian Church in
Washington D.C. The Report recommended further study of moral injury and education of religious communities about criteria governing the moral conduct of war, about the needs of veterans and their families, including healing moral injury, and about the importance of protecting moral conscience in war.
At its centennial General Assembly November 9-11, 2010, in New Orleans, LA, the National Council of Churches of Christ USA discussed a vision paper, “Christian Understanding of War in an Age of Terror(ism)”vii which seeks to galvanize conversations among U.S. Christians on questions of morality and war, including pacifism and just war, and to make common witness on these issues. The document urged member churches to take concrete steps together to act in ways that make a difference for our life together as God’s people.
The work of the Truth Commission on moral injury and the NCCC’s vision paper asks religious people across the spectrum from pacifism to supporters of just war and from every religious tradition to consider how we might make a common religious witness to protect moral conscience in the military. Pacifism and moral teaching about just war, while often set at odds, share many principles when discussing war in moral terms, such as a commitment to protect the innocent, the goals of justice and causing the least harm, and the importance of nonviolent forms of conflict resolution. Given the current alarming suicide rates among those in military service and veterans and the devastating consequences of war in the families and communities of soldiers and veterans, we must find ways to join together to offer healing and to prevent moral injury wherever possible.
(The above quote is up for vote and discussion at the General Assembly in July 2011).
For further information, contact: Homeland Ministries, Center for Education and Mission, PO Box 1986, Indianapolis, IN 46206; www.disciples.org