Draft Official Defends Practice of Early Sign-Up

By Susan G. Foster — March 07, 1984 5 min read

Washington--The director of the Selective Service System last week denied charges leveled against the agency by a national draft-counseling group that a newly implemented draft-registration practice violates federal regulations.

In its ongoing attempt to register an estimated 5,000 young men who become eligible for the draft each day, Selective Service officials have been encouraging “early” registrations and have sought the aid of high-school officials in carrying out that objective.

After receiving complaints from both students and school officials about the agency’s early-registration efforts, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, a Philadelphia-based draft-counseling organization, accused agency officials of violating Selective Service regulations and has threatened legal action.

But during oversight hearings here by members of the House Subcommittee on Housing and Urban Development-Independent Agencies, Thomas K. Turnage, the agency’s director, said the new practice of registering young men by up to 120 days before their 18th birthday is legal and necessary to prevent delays in college-admission decisions.

Under the federal law governing the Selective Service System, young men are allowed 60 days--30 days before their 18th birthday and 30 days after--to register for the draft.

The group charges, however, that because the law specifies the 30-day period, any attempts to register young men earlier than that and at locations other than local post of-fices as prescribed in the law, are illegal.

But Mr. Turnage, responding to subcommittee members’ questions, said the early-registration efforts “are completely within the law” and that the allegations of wrongdoing are “not based on legal foundation.” He said “there are other aspects of authority” that permit the agency to conduct early registrations. But he did not elaborate or identify the enabling statutes.

Representative Edward P. Boland, Democrat of Massachusetts and the subcommittee chairman, agreed that limiting draft registration to the prescribed 60-day period could present an administrative problem.

“I would assume the effort is of some benefit because it would assure young men of receiving certificates before they go to college,” Mr. Boland said. Early registration, he added, permits timely decisions concerning financial aid.

School Involvement Faulted

Although the testimony on the Selective Service’s early-registration policy and a related public-awareness program was fairly well received by members of the subcommittee, representatives of peace-activist and draft-counseling groups maintain that the agency’s activities are illegal and inappropriate, especially when they involve the schools.

In an interview last week, James H. Feldman Jr., staff lawyer for the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors said the draft agency ''has taken it upon itself to say they need younger men,” when the Congress already has decided that “younger men should not be saddled” with the duty of registering.

“We just don’t think it is an appropriate role for the schools” to register young men for the draft, Mr. Feldman said of an option developed by the Selective Service agency that allows officials to register students in the schools rather than at local post offices. “It’s their job to teach students to think critically, and it becomes impossible for the schools to fulfill that responsibility when they are being required to act as an arm of the government.

“Students now have so little time to devote to their education,” Mr. Feldman added, “that it’s just not appropriate to have it taken away by the military.”

According to Mr. Feldman, the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors has not decided whether it will begin a legal challenge to the Selective Service System’s draft-registration policy.

Increasing Compliance

At the hearing, Mr. Turnage also cited attempts by the agency to increase rates of registration and to make young men aware of their legal and civic responsibility to register.

“We’re trying to initiate as many innovative programs as we can,” Mr. Turnage said, adding that the agency has been “reaping great benefits” as a result of a citizenship program it is sponsoring in Louisiana high schools to inform students, particularly young men, of their civic responsibilities.

The agency’s citizenship program is part of a larger effort undertaken by Selective Service officials to increase compliance with the draft-registration law.

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Selective Service Defends the Practice of Early Sign-Up

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In 1982, the Congress enacted a law, commonly known as the Solomon Amendment, that requires the U.S. Education Department to deny federal financial aid to young men who have not registered for the draft. Last year, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a case challenging the constitutionality of that law. (See Education Week, Dec. 14, 1983.)

More recently, Selective Service officials announced that they would be increasing their visits to high schools in states with low draft-registration compliance to inform students about the legal aspects of registration in hopes of boosting compliance.

Mr. Turnage said the overall rate of compliance with the draft-regis-tration law is about 96.3 percent, an increase of nearly 1 percentage point over last year’s rate.

Military Presence

The objections to the federal agency’s actions come at a time when peace activists are expressing growing concern about the increasing presence of military representatives in the schools while anti-military and draft-counseling groups are denied access to students.

“We have no objections to the military going into the schools, because that opens up the debate,” said Mr. Feldman.

But he added that the same right should be accorded anti-military groups as well.

In January, a federal judge ruled that the Chicago Board of Education must allow members of a draft-counseling group the same access to students in the schools that it grants to military recruiters. (See Education Week, Feb. 1, 1984.)

The Chicago board is appealing that decision, but the success of Clergy and Laity Concerned, the organization that filed suit, in the court case has offered encouragement to other groups around the country.

The Atlanta Peace Alliance, for example, is considering a legal challenge to the school board’s refusal to allow its representatives into the schools to counsel high-school students and to provide materials to teachers.

A version of this article appeared in the March 07, 1984 edition of Education Week as Draft Official Defends Practice of Early Sign-Up