The United States Supreme Court ruled on June 15 that conscientious objectors do not have to be religious in the traditional sense of that term. The court also said that draft boards must reconsider a man’s status if he decides to be a conscientious objector after being classified. Later in the month the court was expected to decide whether men opposed to particular wars, but not to war in general, are entitled to draft exemption.

Originally, the federal law under which Americans are inducted into the armed forces stated:

“Nothing contained in this title shall be construed to require any person to be subject to combatant training and service in the armed forces of the United States, who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participating in war in any form. Religious training and belief in this connection means an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophic views or a merely personal moral code.”

The court ruled in 1965 in the so-called Seeger case that non-religious men could qualify as conscientious objectors if their beliefs were as important in their lives as a religious person’s belief in God. Congress amended the draft law in 1967, deleting the reference to a “Supreme Being” but continuing to provide that “religious training and belief” does not include “essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views, or a merely personal code.”

The principal in the 1965 case signed the Selective Service form after striking the words training and and putting quotation marks around the word religious. One of the appellants in the cases decided ...

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