How to Become a Conscientious Objector

If you claimed conscientious objector status, would a draft board believe you? Curt Torell of Quaker House has some tips for making sure they do.

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If you claimed conscientious objector status, would a draft board believe you? Curt Torell of Quaker House has some tips for making sure they do.


Imagine if 3 years from now, there was a draft. And you got a draft notice to report for induction and you realized that you were a conscientious objector. What you would do is you would fill out a form requesting a deferment and you would be scheduled to meet with a local draft board to substantiate your position. One of the 3 definitions of being a conscientious objector is that it’s sincere and deeply held. So if you had not done any kind of documentation and you went to that draft board, the first question they would say is, “Well, are you really a conscientious objector, or do you just want to get out of the draft? Because you’ve just turned this thing in 10 days ago.”

How to Become a Conscientious Objector

Conscientious objection, legally, fits into three terms: a person has to be personally against their own participation in any and all wars. It must be based on religious, moral or ethical beliefs and training. And the third is it must be sincere or deeply held. And that third one really equates to documentation.

A Spiritual Conviction Against War

One of the things that Quakers early on as a testimony was the testimony of peace and honoring “that of God” in every person. When you’re killing someone in war, you’re not recognizing that there is that of God in that person. George Fox talked about taking away the occasions for all war, and I think what he was trying to do was stress the fact that every human being is a child of God, and therefore respected.

The Origin of Conscientious Objection

I think conscientious objection evolved not because of a government making a decision down, but you had Quakers–who were rather stubborn about their religious views– and they asserted that they would not go to war. And I think that force, early on during the colonial period, pushed legislators and state legislators to recognize the fact that this group is not going to go to war.

The Hidden Registration for Selective Service

Virtually every male living in the United States–even illegal immigrants– need to register for selective service 30 days before or after their 18th birthday. That process has become pretty much seamless and hidden in that, in about 45 states across the country, it’s now automatic when people sign up for a driver’s license. So you people, young men really aren’t even aware that they are signing up for selective service.
Oddly enough, right now for 18 year olds, there’s no place on their selective service form to document a position for conscientious objection.

The Importance of Documentation

So if the draft board said to you, “Prove that you’re a conscientious objector. Show us that you’re sincere and that these are deeply held.” The best answer you could say is you could look them right in the eye and say, “Three years ago, when there was no draft and I didn’t have to do this, I signed up for selective service and I wrote a letter to my faith or my support community indicating that I wanted to be a C.O. I think that shows my sincerity.”

How to Support Learning About Conscientious Objection

To take a position as a conscientious objector, it’s basically a communal decision. It starts with the individual, but they need the support of the entire community. If you’re interested in documenting a position for conscientious objection when you’re 18, or if your meeting is interested in nurturing your young people so that they can make this decision and documenting it, you can go to the Quaker House website, that’s (one word) and this is the curriculum that you’ll find.
It’s got everything that you could possibly want. So basically we put this curriculum together for people who may not have any experience about teaching, who may not know anything about this subject. Just about anything you could want, rather than getting it from 20 different sites on the web, it’s all within this curriculum, so please go to the Quaker House website and inculcate your meeting with the importance of doing this.


It has been an honor to serve Friends as the founder and director of QuakerSpeak. Now I am pleased to announce my next endeavor, a Quaker media project for the modern era. Find out more at

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