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Conscientious Objector

war service military religious

A person who, because of principles of religious training and moral belief, is opposed to all war regardless of its cause.

A conscientious objector may be released from the obligation to serve in the armed forces or to participate in SELECTIVE SERVICE registration. A conscientious objector must oppose war in any form, and not just a particular war, in order to avoid military service. He does not have to be a member of a religious congregation that forbids participation in war. Under the Military Selective Service Act (50 App. U.S.C.A. § 451 et seq. [1967]), a registrant needs only a conscientious scruple against war in all forms to obtain conscientious objector status. A conscientious scruple against war is an objection to war based on moral beliefs. A conviction that war is wrong, arrived at solely on intellectual and rational grounds, does not entitle one to exemption as a conscientious objector.

Under prior draft laws, conscientious objectors were divided into two classes. One class was composed of those who were opposed to all military service, regardless of whether it was combatant or noncombatant. This class was required to serve in civilian work that contributed to the national welfare, such as the Red Cross, but was exempt from military service. The other class was opposed to only combatant military service. These conscientious objectors were drafted into the ARMED SERVICES for noncombatant duty, such as in the medical corps.

Today there is no draft law; however, males are required to register for the Selective Service at the age of eighteen. Registrants can obtain a discharge, or a release, from the armed services on the ground of conscientious objection. A person who seeks a discharge on this basis must satisfy certain tests established by the federal courts. He must oppose all forms of war and object to any type of service in the armed forces. Total PACIFISM, however, is not required. Willingness to use force in SELF-DEFENSE to protect oneself and family does not defeat a claim of opposition to all war. Enlistment in the military service is also not inconsistent with a claim of conscientious objection.

The objection must be founded on deeply held moral, ethical, and religious convictions about right or wrong. Although this limits discharges to those persons who object to war for essentially religious reasons, which are individually held beliefs, it does not restrict discharges to only those who participate in organized religion. The test of a religious belief is not measured by traditional religious concepts but is based upon whether the belief is sincere and has an effect on the life of the nonconforming believer that is comparable with or parallel to traditional religious beliefs held by persons who believe in God. The objective or actual truth of the beliefs is not the standard used to measure the sincerity of the individual in his beliefs; the test is completely subjective, determined by what the individual actually believes. A military board's skepticism as to the sincerity of an objector's belief is not enough to deny a discharge; some objective evidence is required.

Conscientious objectors can be ordered to report for civilian duty in lieu of military service.

CROSS-REFERENCES

Selective Service System.

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