Students from 12 Eastern divinity schools have decided to fight for the abolition of the 4-D exemption, which keeps both divinity students and clergy out of the draft.
The resolution was narrowly passed over strong opposition at a conference at the Divinity School during the weekend.
It was also revealed at the conference that a letter to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara protesting the war in Vietnam has been signed by over 1000 seminarians as well as by Samuel B. Miller, Dean of Harvard Divinity School and other religious leaders. The letter, written by students from Union Theological Seminary of New York, will be mailed to McNamara within the next few weeks.
The students at the conference, however, side-stepped disobedience and rejected proposals made recently by William S. Coffin, chaplain at Yale, that Divinity students had in their draft cards and refuse to cooperate with the draft.
They did urge that seminarians involve themselves in the "Vietnam Summer" community organizing project which Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. endorsed yesterday. In the conference's private work-shops, it was learned, students argued that civil disobedience at the present time would only drive moderates away from anti-war sentiment.
The most heated discussion centered around the abolition of the draft exemption, which passed by only four votes. Representatives from New York Theological Seminary, strongly in favor of the exemption, said they would refuse to sign any paper drawn up at the conference. They proposed instead a resolution to make 4-D status voluntary.
The conference did not prescribe any specific course of action for Divinity students and clergymen if the exemption was abolished.
But they made it clear that they were strongly in favor of amending draft law so that people who object only to the war in Vietnam -- and not to war in general -- can be classified as conscientious objectors.
The delegates also did not come up with any specific plan for getting rid of the exemption, and admitted that abolish it would be difficult. (President Johnson specifically endorsed the 4-D exemption in his recent speech on the Marshall Report.) But students from Harvard who took part in the conference are now working on a detailed position paper that will be sent to 10,000 clergymen and divinity students across the country.