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Five Massachusetts students asked a court Thursday to declare unconstitutional a federal law that requires 18-year-old men, but not women, to register for military service. Their suit claims the law amounts to gender-based discrimination and violates their civil rights. The military draft ended in 1973. But in 1980, a requirement for 18-year-old men to register with the Selective Service System was revived. Men who do not register cannot receive federal student aid or hold certain federal jobs and are subject to criminal prosecution. More than 30 states link registration to certain benefits such as tuition assistance. Plaintiff Nicole Foley, 17, said she suspects the law has not been changed to include women because of long-standing attitudes about women in the military. “It’s so ingrained in our society that this is the way it is — that boys, when there’s a war, go off to war, and the girls wait home and get the letters,” she said. Foley’s brother, Samuel Schwartz, 18, and three friends are the other plaintiffs. Schwartz said he reluctantly registered about six months ago. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the law in 1981, citing combat restrictions then in effect for women. But the siblings’ father, civil rights lawyer Harvey Schwartz, said times have changed and so should the law. “Women can now do just about anything men can do in the military, with some limited exceptions,” he said. “It’s time for the courts and the Congress to take another look at this.” Alyce Burton, a spokeswoman for the Selective Service System, would not comment on the suit. But she said the men-only registration requirement is part of the current law. “For women to register, Congress would have to change the law,” she said. The Military Selective Service Act requires all men to register within 30 days of their 18th birthday. From 1948 to 1973, the military draft was used to bolster the armed forces during periods of both war and peace. Even though there has not been a draft since 1973, the Selective Service system was kept in place in case an emergency made it necessary for Congress to again authorize inductions. Registration for Selective Service was suspended in 1975, at the end of the Vietnam War, but former President Jimmy Carter reinstated the requirement in 1980 in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Copyright 2003 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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