In response to letter writer Raymond Cady of South Portland, regarding the “blemished” reputation of boxer Muhammad Ali (June 17), I disagree.

First, the concept of conscientious objection has been settled by the Supreme Court on numerous occasions and does not limit the qualification to religious beliefs only. In Muhammad Ali’s case, he did qualify as a devout Muslim on religious grounds.

However, there are several other factors involved that are never mentioned in his case. Ali failed his induction test in 1964 because he was borderline illiterate, scoring well below average in writing and spelling.

In 1965 the test standards were lowered because so many poor, uneducated young men didn’t qualify for the draft. By the time Ali was summoned to report for induction in 1967, he’d been a practicing Muslim for three years and still could barely read and write, which should have disqualified him.

What followed was the persecution of Muhammad Ali for his outspokenness against the Vietnam War, pure and simple. Why was Ali drafted and not Joe Frazier, Ernie Terrell or Jerry Quarry, his contemporary boxers? They were all of draft age. It was because they weren’t rocking the boat.

This man was raised in a deeply prejudicial era and subjected to racial epithets and slurs throughout his early life. And when he found peace in his chosen religion, the government prosecuted him for his beliefs and boxing commissioners stripped him of his livelihood.

I agree that we all owe a debt to all of the brave men and women who have served and serve our country now, but we also owe a great deal to the men and women like Muhammad Ali, who face discrimination every day but stand firm in their beliefs and retain their dignity. To me, those people are heroes, and they are not blemished.

Randy Wakefield


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