All enlistees know in the abstract that they may someday be sent to war. But all too often, young recruits do not consider the moral or spiritual implications of military service and warfare before reporting for active duty. Every servicemember participates in the military’s primary mission: to prepare for and fight wars. During their military career, servicemembers may develop profound objections to participating in war. Such servicemembers are often confused about what action to take on their newly-formed beliefs, and feel alienated and helpless in the military environment where they must work and live. Applying for conscientious objector status is intimidating — it is made even more so by the long and complicated process devised by the military. Assistance from a knowledgeable counselor is invaluable.
Members of the military who develop a “firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms,” based on moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, are entitled to discharge from the military or transfer to non-combatant status. An applicant for conscientious objector (CO) status must submit a written application and be interviewed by a chaplain, military psychiatrist, and investigating officer. The written application must describe:
The nature of the applicant’s beliefs about participation in war. How those beliefs changed or developed since entering the military. When and why the applicant’s beliefs prevented him or her from continuing to serve in the military.
How the applicant’s daily lifestyle has changed as a result of his or her beliefs. Criteria
A conscientious objector must meet three criteria:
1. object to participation in war in any form;
2. base his or her objection on “religious training and belief” (which can include moral or ethical training and belief) that “crystallized” after the applicant entered the military; and
3. demonstrate that his or her position is “sincere and deeply held.” While the concept of objecting to war is fairly simple, the legal criteria that a military conscientious objector must meet are more complicated. To be a conscientious objector, an individual must have a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to personally taking part in war, not merely to the idea of war. And one must object, not merely dislike or be saddened by war.
Religious Training and Belief
Conscientious objectors must base their objections on strongly held religious, moral, or ethical beliefs — all of which qualify as “religious training and belief” under the regulations. The military’s broad definition of “religious training and belief” comes from the Supreme Court’s interpretation of that phrase as used in the draft law. In US v Seeger and Welsh v US, the Supreme Court held that given the variety of religious belief, when Congress defined “religious training and belief” as “belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation,” it must have meant something broader than belief in a God. The Court held that it also included moral or ethical beliefs which occupy the same place in the life of the applicant as the belief in a traditional deity holds in the lives of traditionally religious people. The military has chosen to adopt the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the draft law’s definition of “religious training and belief.” Therefore, applicants with moral and ethical beliefs which act as a religion in their lives are just as entitled to conscientious objector status as traditionally religious objectors. Nevertheless, moral or ethical objectors face special burdens. Applicants must establish that the processes through which they developed their new-found beliefs are comparable to at least one form of the religious experience. In addition, applicants must demonstrate that their beliefs serve as a religion in their lives.
“Religious training” is the process by which a person develops his or...