WHEREAS in 1967 the 49th General Assembly of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations adopted a resolution on Selective Service, urging reform of the Selective Service laws "to protect individual conscience and to eliminate inequities."
These inequities have not been corrected and the passage of time has further aggravated the tension and injustice widely felt in America, particularly by young people.
The continuation of an unpopular war has severely deepened the agony of conscience for millions of young Americans who may be compelled to fight and kill in a war which violates the deepest principles of their conscience. This burden of conscience cannot be left to young people to carry alone. Therefore, an increasing number of responsible religious organizations - including the National Council of Churches, the World Council of Churches, the American Council of Roman Catholic Bishops and the Synagogue Council of America and many denominational groups - have urged the government of the United States to recognize in the Selective Service law the right of selective conscientious objection as a ground for exemption from military service, with appropriate provision for alternate non-military service to the United States.
While respect for law is deeply ingrained in the texture of Judaism, Judaism also considers each individual personally responsible before God for his actions. No man who violates the eternal will of the Creator can escape responsibility by pleading that he acted as an agent of another, whether that other be an individual or the state. It is, therefore, possible under unusual circumstances for an individual to find himself compelled by conscience to reject the demands of a human law which, to the individual in question, appears to conflict with the demand made on him by a higher law. This is the essence of conscientious objection. it is one of the glories of American democracy that conscientious objection to war is recognized by the law, and that those who harbor such objections to all wars are permitted to fulfill their obligations by means that do not conflict with their consciences. We suggest that the same principle apply to those who, on grounds of conscience, object only to a particular war.
The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, obedient to the moral teachings of the Jewish faith, supports an extension of the concept of conscientious objection to those who are selective conscientious objectors. While there is no absolute right for any man to be exempt from the demands of the law, the gravity of the moral issues in war are such that it behooves a government as committed to the dignity of the individual as that of the United States to pioneer in this area of respect for the conscience of man. A corresponding obligation devolves on the individual to refrain from invoking such a right except on the clearest and most compelling grounds of conscience.
THEREFORE , THE 50TH GENERAL ASSEMBLY RESOLVES:
- to reaffirm its plea for prompt legislative action to revise the Selective Service Act in accordance with our previous recommendations;
- to join with the growing roster of religious organizations which support the increasingly significant principle of selective conscientious objection to a particular war as a ground for exemption from military service. We associate ourselves, in particular, with the Synagogue Council of America's statement on selective conscientious objection, which establishes the relevance of Judaism to this principle.
- to commend President Nixon for his appointment of a commission to examine alternatives to conscription. To call upon the Commission on Social Action to study all proposals for alternatives to selective service, as well as the question of amnesty, in the spirit of achieving a national reconciliation with those persons whose conscience impelled them to oppose the selective service system as it is presently constituted.