Agudath Israel of America is welcoming the news that a provision mandating women to register for the military draft has been dropped from the FY 2022 defense bill.
Registration with the Selective Service System would be utilized in the event that the draft is reinstated and there is need to mobilize the armed forces for military conflict or national emergency.
It was a surprising development, as pressure has mounted over the years to require women to register for the draft and as bipartisan support for the measure has broadened. However, strong opposition from a group of senators, led by Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), highlighted the contentious nature of the provision, and when negotiations over the defense bill stalled it was stripped out.
Agudath Israel has monitored the issue over the years and increased its advocacy as the bills moved forward over recent months.
While concerns from most quarters dealt with military manpower, management and morale, Agudath Israel’s primary focus related to how the draft registration requirement would infringe upon the religious liberty of women who have religious objections to such military service.
“We had heard the concerns of families from various corners of the Orthodox Jewish community, who were afraid of what the requirement might ultimately mean for daughters and granddaughters,” noted Rabbi Abba Cohen, Agudath Israel’s Vice President for Government Affairs and Washington Director.
“A generalized requirement for women to register for the draft -- without any hint or mention of a religious exemption -- would be highly objectionable. Indeed, it is likely that large numbers of these women would not register and possibly be subject to some form of sanction.”
Upon the direction of Agudath Israel’s rabbinic leadership. Rabbi Cohen shared these concerns with the Biden Administration, Congressional leadership, members of the Armed Forces Committee and other faith-based groups. The message was that it was imperative that the issue and its consequences be considered carefully as “there is much at stake here and fundamental religious freedoms may be lost.”
Rabbi Cohen points out that the story will likely not end here.
Because the women’s draft involves constitutional questions, it is likely that the Supreme Court will take up the question. In that event, Agudath Israel will present its concerns to the justices and urge a ruling that will fully take into account the very compelling religious liberty concerns involved in the issue.