Lutherans Armor Up to Defend Women

The U. S. Senate wants to mandate female draft registration—starting a war over conscience.

Last week in Milwaukee ,the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod’s triennial convention passed a resolution, by a 946-89 vote, committing to support “those who have a religious and moral objection to women participating in the selective service system and being subject to a possible draft.” The text of the final resolution built on proposals by more than three dozen congregations, circuits, districts, or commissions of the synod.

 

For its modest size and relatively apolitical ethos, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod seems to be having more than its share of days in court. Three years ago the Supreme Court unanimously vindicated one of its congregations in Hosanna-Tabor v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which recognized that churches have broad autonomy over whom they hire. This fall the justices will take up Trinity Lutheran v. Pauley, a dispute over whether states can deny funds to schools with religious affiliations.

Now the synod’s two million members may have reason to anticipate yet another day in court. Last week in Milwaukee the church’s triennial convention passed a resolution, by a 946-89 vote, committing to support “those who have a religious and moral objection to women participating in the selective service system and being subject to a possible draft.” The text of the final resolution built on proposals by more than three dozen congregations, circuits, districts, or commissions of the synod.

That such a measure was even brought to a vote indicates how swiftly the country’s legal and political culture has been changing. A similar proposal mooted only three years ago was dismissed as unnecessary. Undoubtedly, some delegates even thought it paranoid posturing.

Then, last December, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced that all positions in the U.S. military, including combat roles, would be opened to women.

The order applies only to volunteers, but some fear that opening combat positions to women will make mandatory selective-service registration a legal necessity. One of the proposed resolutions at the synod’s convention cited Rostker v. Goldberg, the 1981 Supreme Court case that upheld male-only draft registration. “Since women are excluded from combat,” Justice William Rehnquist wrote for the majority, “Congress concluded that they would not be needed in the event of a draft, and therefore decided not to register them.”

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