Monday, January 30, 2012

Reading the ACLU Policy Guide (Pt. 9)

Series explanation and overview here.

Note: These are my summaries of the 1995 version of the guide, not the policies themselves.

Military Power

Policy 120 — Conscription

Forced military service — or even nonmilitary service — violates constitutional rights to freedom of association, freedom from involuntary servitude, and privacy. "The notion that the American people are too stupid or too cowardly to defend their nation unless coerced into doing so has no place in a free and democratic society." Drafting is a poor substitute for providing "the compensation and respect that will attract enough volunteers to fill the ranks."

If there is a draft, the ACLU at least asks that conscription be handled in an equitable manner. "[T]he pattern of exemptions has favored the wealthier, more educated groups and has discriminated against poorer segments of our society, including minority ethnic groups." Drafts have also discriminated according to sex. The subtext here is that draft legislation would be less likely to succeed if wealthy, educated, or female youths were just as threatened by it.

Policy 121 — Conscientious Objection

"No one should be subject to participation in the Armed Forces of the United States contrary to conscience, whether that conscience has been formed by religious, ethical, moral or philosophical conviction or belief."

The ACLU recognizes and will defend different levels of conscientious objection. A person may accept alternative service, but not a specific type of alternative service under the direction of the military. A person may serve in the military, but object to combat training or service. Or a person may serve in a combat capacity, but object to a particular armed conflict as a whole.

Objection cannot be limited to religious beliefs, as this would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause. Non-religious beliefs "which result in a claim of conscientious objection must be sincere and meaningful beliefs, which occupy in the life of the objector a place parallel to that filled by the religious beliefs of religious consciousness objectors."

Policy 122 — Separation of Powers

Constitutionally, Congress — not the Executive Branch — has the power to declare war. This is important because Congress is "the branch of the federal government most capable of providing the American people with a full, open and diverse debate before committing them to undertake the burdens of war."

The ACLU will defend this principle against Executive attempts to circumvent it, besides the valid exception of taking emergency defensive action (which is truly an emergency and truly defensive).

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