Service Nation States that It Does Not Support Mandatory National Service:

I recently had a conversation with Tim Zimmerman, a spokesman for Service Nation, in which he emphasized that he and the organization he represents do not support mandatory national service. Co-blogger Jim Lindgren and I had previously interpreted their position as supporting such an agenda because many of the organization's leaders have previously expressed support for mandatory service and because the organization's list of 13 objectives includes "Launch[ing] a debate about why and how America should become a nation of universal national service by 2020." As Jim pointed out in one of his posts, it is impossible to have national service that is both universal and voluntary because under a voluntary system at least some people will choose not to serve, thus rendering the system non-universal.

However, Zimmerman suggests that this passage (which has since been removed from Service Nation's website) was merely intended to indicate the group's support for the idea that service opportunities should be universally available to those who want to serve. He agreed that Point 13 was poorly worded and thought that Service Nation should use different terminology in the future. He also points to this recently added statement on Service Nation's website (which was apparently added as a result of Jim's post):

Does Service Nation support mandatory national service?

No. We support the idea of voluntary community and national service. We are working to both inspire more Americans to volunteer their time and to encourage our leaders to create service opportunities for every American who wants to serve their community and country. We do not support mandatory national service requirements.

Obviously, definitions of what counts as "voluntary" may vary. Some national service advocates seem to believe that a system is "voluntary" so long as participants can choose what kind of government-mandated service they are required to perform (while being denied the option of refusing to serve altogether). Zimmerman assured me that this is not Service Nation's view.

As a general rule, I think we should assume that people are telling the truth about their agenda unless there is clear proof to the contrary (as there isn't here). So I think I should accept Zimmerman's and Service Nation's assurances on this point, as there is no clear proof that they are in bad faith.

At the same time, I continue to be troubled by some of the statements made by Service Nation leader Alan Khazei, who has argued that "every nation in the world [should] ha[ve] a year of full-time service as a rite of passage for all young people growing up," and that we should have "universal national service." There is no way that "a year of full-time service" can be a rite of passage for all young people unless it is mandatory. Khazei has also said that a year of national service should be a requirement for admission to college, though it is not clear whether he means that government should mandate this requirement or whether he merely hopes that universities will adopt it voluntarily. Khazei's views don't necessarily represent those of Service Nation as a whole, and I am willing to accept that the organization doesn't endorse all of his positions.

I also worry that the enactment of a massive government program for even genuinely voluntary service (which Service Nation does seem to favor) might eventually transition into a mandatory system even if that wasn't the original intention. Like Jim, I continue to oppose Service Nation's proposal to enormously expand government-sponsored service programs, eventually enrolling up to 1 million people every year (more than ten times as many as currently).