Quaker Sues U.S. for Recognition of Conscientious Objector Status

Tobin D. Jacobrown, 21, discusses his lawsuit against the federal government. He alleges that the U.S. government is discriminating against him because it will not recognize his status as a conscientious objector on military draft forms.Video by Del Quentin Wilber/The Washington Post
By Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Washington state Quaker filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday alleging that the U.S. government is discriminating against him because it will not recognize his status as a conscientious objector on military draft forms.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of Tobin D. Jacobrown, 21, in the District's federal court. The suit asks U.S. District Judge Ricardo M. Urbina to order the government to recognize conscientious objectors when men register for the draft.

The United States, which has an all-volunteer military, has not had a draft since 1973. But the Selective Service System collects information from men ages 18 to 25 in case Congress reinstates conscription into the armed forces.

Jacobrown, of Indianola, Wash., said he has not filled out his Selective Service forms, as required by law, because they do not have a space for him to indicate his status as a conscientious objector. As a Quaker, he said, he cannot sign the forms without such a provision. Although Quakers do not have a specific creed, pacifism is a long-standing belief.

"A big part of my religion is not submitting to any system that you feel is unjust," Jacobrown said. "And I think this is unjust."

Dan Amon, a spokesman for Selective Service, declined to comment on the suit because officials had not reviewed it. However, Amon said, there are no legal provisions or procedures for Selective Service to gather such information when people register.

The appropriate place for people to object to military service on such grounds, he said, is before a draft board.

Jacobrown could face civil or criminal penalties for failing to fill out his Selective Service forms. He also cannot obtain federal student loans or work for the federal government, the suit says.

The suit says Jacobrown tried repeatedly to get Selective Service, which administers the draft, to record his status as an objector. But it has refused, the suit says.

Other Quakers, he said, write that they are conscientious objectors on the forms, even though the information is not collected by the government and the documents are discarded. The objectors keep copies of the forms to prove that they raised the issue when they registered.

The ACLU said a 1993 law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, requires federal agencies to accommodate people's religious beliefs in such cases.

Arthur Spitzer, an ACLU lawyer, said Selective Service could easily find a way to record men's conscientious objection claims. It did so until 1980, he said

"It seems as easy as pie," Spitzer said. "It would take minimal effort on their part."

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