U.S. Marine Cpl. Joel D. Klimkewicz, a Seventh-day Adventist, was sentenced December 14 to seven months in a military prison after being denied status as a conscientious objector.
Klimkewicz, 24, was convicted of refusing to obey an order from a commanding officer.
He had refused to pick up a weapon, claiming that his newfound religious beliefs prevented him from doing so.
The Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has an estimated 13.4 million members worldwide, once required its members to refuse combat duty. Today it continues to support members who are conscientious objectors, but doesn't require that stance of its members. Klimkewicz had asked to be a noncombatant, doing such high-risk jobs as sweeping mines, but was denied.
Klimkewicz, a Michigan native, sits in the brig in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where he was a combat engineer for the Second Marine Division. He received a bad conduct discharge, a penalty given typically to thieves, brawlers, and the disobedient.
"It's a sign that he did something wrong and was punished for it," said Capt. Jeff Pool, a spokesman for the Second Marine Division.
Klimkewicz's advisers are protesting what they say is a severe sentence. "I was in the Army for 24 years as a chaplain, including in Vietnam, and never have I seen such a long sentence meted out," said Richard Stenbakken, a Seventh-day Adventist spiritual adviser to Klimkewicz. Klimkewicz, in addition to being kicked out of the Marines, will receive no health benefits, pension, or pay. He is married and has a 3-year-old daughter.
Some religious liberty advocates, however, are optimistic his sentence will be reduced or overturned. "This is different from a guy who says, 'I'm afraid to go,'" said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford ...1