YOU PROBABLY have been impressed, as we have, with the placid demeanor and obvious sincerity of Enten Eller, the 20-year-old student who on Monday became the first man convicted of violating the law requiring young men to register for the draft. Mr. Eller is a member of the Church of the Brethren, a group which has been in this country since 1723 and which believes in pacifism. "God has led me to this position," Mr. Eller said during his trial, and there is no doubt that his refusal to obey the law, as well as his refusal to make any legal defense of his conduct, arise from what American conscription law has long regarded as conscientious objection.
Nonetheless, we think it was proper for the government to bring this prosecution and that it is important to understand why. The law Mr. Eller was convicted of violating represents about the mildest intrusion on personal liberty a government interested in maintaining the possibility of conscription can make. Young men are required only to register; there is no draft and no other consequence, at least for the moment, of registering. Selective Service law in the past has provided for conscientious objector status, and while an argument can be made that the law in the past was not generous enough in granting such status, the fact is that for members of the Church of the Brethren, the granting of such status was automatic. Mr. Eller's father, a minister in that church, himself registered for the draft during World War II and then sought and was granted CO status. It is hard to resist the conclusion that Mr. Eller and others like him, who have publicized their refusal to obey the registration law, do so because it is the only military-related law around that they can disobey.
In these circumstances, the government has not merely the option but the responsibility to enforce a law which was passed in a democratic process, which is plainly within the constitutional powers of Congress and which, in fact, does not represent an assault on personal freedom. The situation is not much different, we think, from that which would arise if members of a religious sect refused to obey stop signs, because of a genuine religious conviction that such government commands were morally wrong. Even while we respect their religious beliefs, we will want to have enforced the law which they feel compelled to disobey.
The arguments that the draft registration law is unwise, that it somehow promotes war or unfairly violates civil liberties, should be -- and have been -- directed at the politically responsible officials. Congress passed this law, and perhaps Congress will choose to repeal it; there is an election this fall, and voters can make their views known. In the meantime, the law should be enforced, even against as personally appealing a defendant as Mr. Eller.