Boxer Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army after his local draft board rejects his application to be classified as a conscientious objector for religious reasons. (He is a Muslim.) Ali will subsequently be banned from boxing, stripped of his titles, and convicted of draft evasion. In 1971, in a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court will overturn his conviction. On April 28, 1967, Ali was present in Houston for his scheduled induction into the U.S. Armed Forces, but he refused three times to step forward when his name was called. An officer warned him that he was committing a felony punishable by five years in prison and a fine of $10,000. Once more, Ali refused to budge when his name was called, and he was arrested. Later that same day, the New York State Athletic Commission suspended his boxing license and stripped him of his title. Other boxing commissions followed suit. Ali would not be able to obtain a license to box in any state for over three years.
One will ask why he rejected to be inducted because he was the one that registered for conscription in the United States military on his 18th birthday and was listed as 1-A in 1962.In 1964, he was reclassified as Class 1-Y (fit for service only in times of national emergency) after he failed the U.S. Armed Forces qualifying test because his writing and spelling skills were not good. (He was quoted as saying, “I said I was the greatest, not the smartest!”) By early 1966, the army lowered its standards to permit soldiers above the 15th percentile and Ali was again classified as 1-A. This classification meant he was now eligible for the draft and induction into the U.S. Army at a time when the U.S. was involved in the Vietnam War, a war which put him further at odds with the white establishment.
When notified of this status, Ali declared that he would refuse to serve in the army and publicly considered himself a conscientious objector. Ali stated: “War is against the teachings of the Qur’an. I’m not trying to dodge the draft. We are not supposed to take part in no wars unless declared by Allah or The Messenger. We don’t take part in Christian wars or wars of any unbelievers.” He stated: “Man, I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. Ali elaborated: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”
My enemy is the white people, not Viet Cong or Chinese or Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. You won’t even stand up for me in America for my religious beliefs—and you want me to go somewhere and fight, but you won’t even stand up for me here at home?
—Muhammad Ali to a crowd of college students during his exile