Moral waiver

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A moral waiver is an action by United States armed forces officials to accept, for induction into one of the military services, a recruit who is in one or more of a list of otherwise disqualifying situations.

The mechanism dates from at least the mid-1960s, and was by no later than 1969[1] part of Army Regulation 601-270.[2] As of 2009, the "major revision" effective in March 2007 and titled "Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)" remains in effect; in that revision, Chapter 9 ("Processing of Selective Service System Registrants"), Section III ("Determination of Moral Qualifications and Waivers")[3] is primarily[4] concerned with moral waiver.

Each disqualifying situation involves at least convictions for multiple minor traffic offenses, or conviction of a more serious charge. The waiver-granting official would be either the commanding officer of the induction center, or the commander of the national induction-center system; the regulations permit even partial discretion as to which of the two applies only in the case of serious juvenile offenses: for adverse juvenile adjudication for one or more juvenile "felonies" (where the quotation marks are part of the regulation), the induction center commander may either reject the inductee on that commander's own authority, or submit the case for consideration of a moral waiver by the national commander. A single adult felony conviction could be subject to moral waiver, at the discretion of the national commander, but multiple ones are completely disqualifying.

Popular culture[edit]

The Group W bench, a key element of Arlo Guthrie's 1967 folk song and extended monologue "Alice's Restaurant", is a reference to the moral waiver provision―the W stands for "waiver." He described that key element of the work as a waiting area where he mingled with other potential inductees awaiting consideration for a waiver and stated that all sorts of crimes, ranging from rape, sodomy and assault with a deadly weapon down to littering (Guthrie's crime) could necessitate its use. The Guthrie work made the expression "Group W bench" (or occasionally simply "Group W," not to be confused with the Group W brand used by Westinghouse Broadcasting) a catchphrase for non-conformity. Various websites, an analysis, modeling and research company, and a well established[5] "eclectic boutique"[6] in New Haven, Connecticut, take their names from it.

In the TV series Lie to Me episode titled "Moral Waiver", Sgt. Scott was accepted into the military despite having a long list of minor offences.

Potential effects in Iraq War era[edit]

In the 2000s, maintaining higher troop levels in the face of higher casualties required two changes in the US Army. Tours of duty were increased and a higher fraction of volunteers were inducted via moral waivers. A Defense Department sponsored report described increased length of tours leading to higher stress which increase manifestations of anger and disrespect for civilians.[7]

Increasing use of moral waivers has been found to have implications for killing of noncombatants: John D. Hutson, dean and president of the Franklin Pierce Law Center in New Hampshire and former judge advocate general of the US Navy, said the military must tread carefully in deciding which persons with criminal histories to accept. He says that "There is a reason why allowing people with criminal histories into the military has long been the exception rather than the rule, and

If you are recruiting somebody who has demonstrated some sort of antisocial behavior and then you are a putting a gun in their hands, you have to be awfully careful about what you are doing. You are not putting a hammer in their hands, or asking them to sell used cars. You are potentially asking them to kill people."[8]


  1. ^ 458 F.2d 619, US vs Adams
  2. ^ Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS)
  3. ^ Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS), pp. 24-33 (in the document, but numbered as 34-43 of the PDF). Note that the content of "Appendix F" is incompatible with the context in which it is referred to, and the reference to it (on p. 24, i.e. p. 34 in the PDF) in "9–15. Initial screening" is apparently a typo for "Appendix E", titled "Guidelines of Typical Offenses", at pp. 49-52 (59-62 of the PDF).
  4. ^ That section also includes "9-21. Provisions related to homosexual conduct", which makes no reference to moral waiver, nor to statutes or courts, but includes elements of the policy known as "Don't ask, don't tell".
  5. ^ Chapel Street, November 2008
  6. ^ The Long Road Archived 2007-08-27 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ Mental Health Advisory Team IV Findings Released
  8. ^ Alvarez, Lizette (2007-02-14). "Army Giving More Waivers in Recruiting". The New York Times. Retrieved 2008-03-25.