On the Case
In 2006, Tobin Jacobrown chose to not register with the SSS, concluding that it would be too great a burden on his beliefs in nonviolence.
Now he is pursuing a lawsuit against the SSS that would make it possible for anyone with similar nonviolent beliefs to be recognized at the time of registration.
Leading up to my 18th birthday I was constantly asking myself what nonviolence meant to me. Growing up in a Quaker community, and studying such teachers as Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and the Dalai Lama, nonviolence had always been an ideal to strive for; and yet, I felt like I was rarely given an opportunity to practice nonviolence in the face of adversity. Now, faced with the legal compulsion to register for the draft, I had to reevaluate my beliefs.
Part of me, in a sentiment that most people who have ever been teenagers will understand, wanted to tell all authorities to keep out of my business, including the government. Another part of me knew that it would not be so easy. Even though nobody had been convicted for failing to register for the draft in twenty years, I had to remember that there was still a possibility that I could go to jail, perhaps for years of my life.
More immediately, I had to be ready to forgo financial aid for college, which, with knowledge of my families assets, might mean not going to college at all. After years of worrying about my academic standing, thinking I was investing my energy for my higher education, I had to be ready to give that all up.
Luckily, this was not ultimately the case. Though the process was not easy, I was lucky enough to find a college that respected my convictions enough to offer to pay my financial aid out of their own funds. This outcome certainly exceeded my expectations.
By the time I did turn 18, after deliberating the issue for months, the decision to not register seemed obvious. In addition to my evaluation of my beliefs, I was also deep into researching a thesis on the psychology of soldiers, and my findings were devastating. At the time, the Los Angeles Times was reporting 1/3 of soldiers from Iraq were seeking psychological help immediately after returning to the US. The rest of my evidence all lead to the same conclusion, most of it coming from military sources themselves: war makes you crazy.
I could not imagine participating in the military in any way; if war meant losing my sanity, prison would seem an easy alternative. Of course, registering for the draft did not mean going to war. But registering was symbolic; I would be put on a list of potential soldiers and have no recognition of my beliefs. I would be entered into the Selective Service System; giving a draft board the final decision over whether I was fit for war or not.
When the SSS eventually did contact me, asking why I had not yet registered, I sent them a letter admitting that I was a male citizen of the correct age, but explaining that my beliefs did not allow me to register. I cited my first ammendment right to freedom of religion, (which has since come to cover secular beliefs as well.) After sending in two drafts of my letter, I finally received a response from a representative of the SSS. Little was said about the legal validity of my case, and it was recommended that I register immediately in order to avoid a charge of felony. It seemed that I had gone as far as I could on my own, my next petition to the SSS would be through a lawyer.
As with all things in this case, acquiring a lawyer took considerable time and energy. Through a connection at the Center on Consience and War an organization that assists draft resistors, I was put in touch with a lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU, founded by a draft resistor in 1920, is an organization that conducts and funds legal action to protect American liberties, and seemed like a perfect match for my case. With an organization of their kind, the lawyers have to be very discerning about what cases they take, though; and it was only after months of email debate that we found common ground. In fact, it was only when I felt like giving up and getting a different lawyer, I wrote that in a final email, and suddenly the response was positive; they said that it looked like we had a case.
Together with my lawyer, I have decided that my standpoint should be to demand that at the time of registration one should be able to be officially recognized by the SSS as Conscientious Objector to all forms of war, that is, someone who will not participate in the military based on their ethical or religious beliefs. This would serve my interests of escaping the threat of felony while having my beliefs respected, and would serve the interests of the SSS in that I would be registered. Additionally, others with similar beliefs would not have to choose between registration and being denied federal aid for college.
And now I have to remember to keep patient. The initial correspondence between my lawyer and the General Counsel of the SSS can be read above, in the right column. We are working on the first steps towards prosecuting and hopefully, someday soon I will have the privilege of testifying in court. maybe even see a day when someone can register for peace just as easily as they can register for the military.
I cannot say what will come of it, but through investing myself in this work, I can least begin to free my own conscience.