Conscientious Objector Status

CO Status – How it works today

A conscientious objector, or CO, is a person who refuses military service on religious or moral grounds. Both the governments of the United States and Canada afford provisions to exempt these individuals from military service in the event that government calls for a general military draft.

Registration for selective service

In the United States, males are required to register with the selective service, which records the name and address of the individual. The government uses this information to identify males fit for military service, in the case of a national draft or mass military subscription. Females are not required to register with selective service.[1]

The selective service registration form does not allow the registrant to specify that he is a conscientious objector. Furthermore, choosing not to register carries the threat of stiff fines and jail time, the denial of federal financial aid for higher education, and disqualification from employment with government organizations. In short, there is no way to apply for or obtain CO status prior to enlistment with the armed forces.[2]

Preparing for a draft

Since there is no way to receive a guarantee of CO status prior to being drafted, the US selective service and several peace churches suggest some steps to help young men prepare for the eventuality of a draft.[3]

  • Prepare a statement—Write a detailed statement of beliefs, explaining both moral and religious reasons to refuse military service. It may also be advisable to file this with a church, or to mail it to oneself. Having a statement of belief on file before being drafted helps show that the belief is authentic and not merely a way to avoid military service.
  • Character references—In case of a draft, it is advisable for an individual to disclose beliefs about military service to a third party who can serve as a witness to his long-held belief in nonviolence.
  • Real-world examples—An individual should also record instances in which he refused to act in violence because of religious or moral convictions.

Applying for CO status

In the event of a national draft, an individual with an objection to military service receives notice that he is to join the military. At this point he must apply for a suspension or deferment of service while attempting to assert his status as a CO. At this point, the individual will appear in front of the local draft board and must present evidence explaining why he should receive an exemption from military service. If denied CO status, an individual can then appeal to a selective service appeal board. If he receives a rejection with a mixed decision, he can then appeal to the national draft board.[4]

Options for CO service

Upon receiving CO status, an individual participates in one of several different branches of service. These include conservation, care for children or the elderly, education, and health care. If the individual objects to violence but not to military service, he receives a noncombatant role within the armed forces.[5]

[1] “Conscientious Objection and Alternative Service,” Selective Service System, accessed August 15,2014,
[2] “Registration for the Draft in the United States and Steps Young People May Take,” National Youth & Militarism Program, accessed August 15,2014,
[3] “Conscientious Objection and Alternative Service.”
[4] “Registration for the Draft in the United States and Steps Young People May Take.”
[5] “Conscientious Objection and Alternative Service”