When the country's 4 million 19- and 20-year-olds go to local post offices to register for the draft later this month, those least likely to understand their alternatives are minority youths.
And that, coupled with the high rate of unemployment among these young men, is unfair, says the Rev. Jack Woodard of St. Stephen and The Incarnation Church, 16th and Newton streets NW.
"Low-income kids who haven't been able to get a job especially need to know they need not register," the 53-year-old Episcopalian rector said. "To defend a country that hasn't given them a place is a big immorality. I don't want them to register without knowing the alternatives. "These black youngsters can simply not register. If they don't have a social security number, who is going to find them? The computer will spin its wheels."
Woodard and local religious and community groups are joining others across the country who are showing youths how to resist draft registration, scheduled to begin nationwide July 21.
"I am deliberately going to break the law by counseling against the registration," Woodward, imprisoned several times in the South during the civil rights movement in the 60s, said, "I think it's unconstitutioned and I'm willing to be a test case."
Woodard's church, along with The Washington Peace Center and other community groups, are seeking volunteers to counsel youths on alternatives to registration and the legal implications of nonregistration.
"I think the results are that several thousands of young people in Washington will not register," Woodward said.
Sponsored by students from Antioch Law School, training sessions for volunteers, including other local clergy, began yesterday at All Souls Church, 16th and Harvard streets NW. The clergy attending will set up counseling centers in their parishes.
Training includes three areas of counseling: explanations of the registration and draft process; how to qualify for conscientious objector status, deferments and exemptions, and nonregistration and other forms of noncooperation with selective service regulations.
"The economic reality has been that the (low-income youths) have been forced to go in whether they want to or not," Jim Garrett, theAntioch law student directing the program, said. Garrett said unlike middle- and upper-middle class youths, low-income youths receive information about the armed services that generally is "narrowly focused, recruitment-oriented."
Rev. Mamie Williams, pastor of the Calvery United Methodist Church, 1459 Columbia Rd. NW, and a proponent of nonregistration, said her personal opposition is in line with church principles. After the training sessions, she plans to canvass the community to determine if there is a need for a counseling center at the church.
"There is a high percentage of ethnic youth who may lack skills for the future and motivation from their parents and their schools," she said. "They might be the first to move towards the service."
Rev. E. Allen Stewart, pastor of the Franklin P. Nash United Methodist Church, Lincoln Road and U Street NE, plans to organize a counseling center at a local church.
"I think a whole lot more enters into it than morality," Stewart, a veteran of the Vietnam War, said. "A lot of kids are looking to (the service) because of unemployment. That's the reason I think they need to look at the consequences."
But others are worried that registration is the first step toward another war. Dana Powell, a member of an ecumenical Christian community in Columbia Heights called the Sojourners, is one. She sees registration as a prelude to nuclear war: "It's going to interrupt people's lives in terrible ways, but we're coming to a time in history where choices are going to have to be made."
Woodward turned to the Scriptures to support his position. "We follow Our Lord who said, 'Blessed are the Peacemakers.'"
The maximum penalty for nonregistration is imprisonment up to five years and/or a $10,000 fine.