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U.S. Seeks 'Preferred' Status for Military Recruiters in Schools

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In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Justice Department is arguing in an "equal access" suit against the Atlanta public schools that military recruiters should have "preferred access" to the schools for "compelling" reasons of national defense.

Both Justice Department officials and lawyers familiar with the suit--brought last year by peace activists who contend they are illegally denied access to the schools to counter military recruiting--say the department has never before intervened in a school suit of this type or made a national-security argument for the military's right to access to the public schools.

Federal lawyers, the peace activists, and school-system lawyers have requested that the federal judge in the case rule on its merits without a trial. His summary judgment is expected in the next few weeks.

The case dates from last year, when 10 peace activists and the Atlanta Peace Alliance filed suit in U.S. District Court challenging the Atlanta Board of Education's policy of allowing U.S. Navy, Army, Air Force, and Marine recruiters into the city's 22 high schools, but not peace advocates.

The activists assert that the policy denies high-school students access to information regarding the "reality of military life" and "alternatives to military service and the draft" in violation of the First Amendment.

In addition, they contend that the policy violates their First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and their 14th Amendment rights to equal protection under the law.

Last March, the Justice Department, "in order to protect [the federal government's] interest in preserving access to the public schools for military recruitment," sought, and was granted, permission by the court to intervene in the case on the side of Atlanta school officials.

In papers filed with the court, the department argues that military recruitment efforts in high schools would be "jeopardized if the relief sought by plaintiffs were granted" because "public schools may well decide to deny or limit access by military recruiters if they must grant equal access to all types of anti-military organizations."

Since the abolition of the draft in 1973, the military must recruit more than 550,000 voluntary enlistees annually to maintain the strength authorized by Congress and the President. According to the Justice Department, the Army has found it must contact five people for each person it recruits.

The Justice Department also asserts in its brief that the peace activists have no constitutional right of access to the Atlanta's public schools on an equal basis with the military recruiters.

"The Atlanta Public School System has not created a general public forum or a limited public forum for the dissemination of viewpoints on the issues plaintiffs seek to discuss," the department argues.

Moreover, even if the public-school system created a public or limited public forum, "the military's compelling interests in recruiting the manpower necessary for our national defense justifies giving military recruiters preferred access to the public schools," the department asserts.

Activists Win Chicago Case

In January 1984, a federal district judge in Chicago ruled in a similar case that the Chicago school board's practice of allowing military recruiters access to students in the city's schools while denying access to peace groups was unconstitutional.

By opening the schools to one group while denying access to groups with opposing views, the school board "is picking and choosing which views may or may not be expressed to its students," U.S. District Judge George N. Leighton wrote in his decision in Clergy and Laity Concerned v. Chicago Board of Education. "Once a school opens its doors to outside groups, it must do so under principles that are constitutionally valid."

The ruling gave peace groups the same access to Chicago high schools afforded military recruiters.

But because the board "didn't want to give the peace groups that kind of access," it curtailed some military-recruitment practices--such as classroom and assembly presentations--according to Scott C. Colky, lawyer for the Chicago chapter of Clergy and Laity Concerned, the group that filed the suit.

Decision Not Mentioned

While the Chicago decision is not mentioned in the Justice Department's papers filed in the Atlanta case, Ralph S. Goldberg, the lawyer representing the Atlanta peace activists, argues that the federal government intervened in the case because it wanted to be sure "the Chicago precedent on the issue is reversed."

Mr. Goldberg noted that the department could have filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case if it simply wanted to express its position on the subject.

"I would suspect," he said, "that one reason they got into the case was so they could appeal the decision if necessary."

Justice Department officials declined to comment about whether the Chicago ruling in favor of the peace groups prompted their intervention in the Atlanta case.

"We move to intervene in cases when we have an important interest to protect," said Amy Brown, a department spokesman, "And this is most likely the case here."

Equal Access Sought

The peace advocates first sought access to Atlanta's high schools in the winter of 1983. At that time, the peace alliance wrote to the city's high-school principals requesting permission to place its literature in career offices, set up tables at career days, and speak at forums where "pro-military speakers are present."

According to the activists, Alonzo Crim, Atlanta's superintendent of schools, agreed to their requests. But after a local newspaper editorialist criticized the agreement, the city's board of education voted to close the schools to peace groups until it could review its policies on the issue.

Later that fall, the board told the activists that they would be barred from the schools, said E. Brian Taylor, one of 50 active members of the Atlanta Peace Alliance. The activists then filed suit in April 1984.

They claim they are seeking access to high schools to help students form a "balanced view" of military life.

"We are asking for the same access that military recruiters have to the public schools," Mr. Taylor said. Such access, he said, would enable the peace groups to place literature in career-guidance offices, hang posters on bulletin boards, operate a "peace-making booth" at school career days, and speak in forums where the military point of view is expressed.

Atlanta school officials were unavailable for comment last week. On the question of whether Mr. Crim first agreed to allow the group into the schools, a lawyer for the district said, "That's the party line. Those are just allegations. That never happened." He said he did not have time to comment further on the case.

Principals' Policy

Ivan Gluckman, legal counsel to the National Association of Secondary School Principals, said it is his impression that military representatives are allowed into most public high schools across the country to recruit students on career days and to post and distribute recruitment literature.

Mr Gluckman said that in 1981 the association's board of directors approved a resolution supporting the concept of occupational options for students, including the training provided by the military, and suggesting that schools cooperate with recruiters.

He added, however, that another longstanding resolution advises school officials not to give out students' names to recruiters from any institution.

Peace activists maintain that many high schools permit military recruiters to pull students from classes to give them information on the benefits of enlisting in the military or the school's Reserve Officers Training Corps, or to administer a vocational-aptitude test.

In some instances, they say, schools provide the recruiters with information on students such as names, addresses, phone numbers, and dates and places of birth.

This information is not generally made available to other recruiters from colleges or industry, they note.

'False Advertising'

"One of our concerns is that the promises made by military recruiters regarding job training, future job possibilities, and economic security are often not kept," said Roger S. Powers, a program coordinator in the national office of Clergy and Laity Concerned. "It becomes a question of false advertising. It's just not all it's cracked up to be."

"The main purpose of the military service is to fight wars and kill," Mr. Taylor said. "This isn't addressed by the recruiters who go into the schools or by their literature."

The peace alliance is not seeking to prevent military recruiters from entering the high schools, Mr. Taylor said.

"We want to be able to tell the students what to look out for when they listen to the recruiters," he said.

"We just want to present the other side so the students can make a responsible decision about military service."

More than 20 percent of Atlanta's high-school graduates enter one of the branches of the military, Mr. Taylor said.

In its papers filed with the court, the Justice Department argues that there are fundamental differences between the mission of military recruiters and peace activists that "make it reasonable for the Atlanta schools to allow access to the recruiters but not to the peace activists."

Military recruiters, the department asserts, unlike the peace activists, perform a unique government function, represent the nation's largest employer, and "are barred from engaging in partisan political activity."

Peace groups argue, however, that military recruitment is not politically neutral. "Choosing a military career is not a flat ideological statement," Mr. Goldberg said. "I would say that if you choose a military career you are making a political choice about how peace is best achieved."

'Marxists Would Have Access'

But the Justice Department maintains that if high schools--because they allow access to prospective employers--are forced to allow access to individuals or groups with views about employers, "the schools would have to open themselves to a host of outside groups."

"Under this theory," the department argues, "if a prospective employer were a privately owned business, then outsiders who were socialists or Marxists would have a right to access to give their views on private ownership."

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