A group of students at the Divinity School are trying to organize a national movement of divinity students to protest the war in Vietnam--perhaps even by giving up their draft exemptions and declaring themselves conscientious objectors.
The students announced last night that they would be holding a conference here in mid-April to consider various strategies. Key speakers will include Reverend William S. Coffin of Yale, who urged divinity students to turn in their draft cards in a recent speech at George Washington University.
Under current Selective Service rules, seminarians are automatically granted 4-D deferments. Supporters of the plan to turn in draft cards, like Coffin, argue that this move would "make a mockery" of the administration's policy towards conscientious objectors. To be exempt from military duty a conscientious objector must be opposed to all wars. Many divinity students object to the war in Vietnam but are not opposed to war in general. If Hershey refuses them C.O. status, the students would prepare to face prison sentences rather than submit to the draft.
Coffin's recent appeal was met with a great deal of enthusiasm by seminarians throughout the country. Some 250 students had plans to turn in their draft cards, confident that they would not be arrested because of the size of the group. "But we realized that they would just pick off the leaders," John E. Cuppels, second year Divinity student who is organizing the conference, said, and the movement lost strength.
The conference grew out of a trip of the Clergymen and Laymen Concerned about the War in Vietnam to Washington in early February. At a concurrent meeting in Washington, the National Emergency Seminaries Committee, (a group set up to protest the war), narrowly defeated a motion to hand in their draft cards.
Divinity students at Yale have enlisted the help of the American Civil Liberties Union to investigate the possibility of attacking the present system of C.O. deferments.