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Alternative Service Cases

Relevant Positions Set Forth by the Courts

In addition to sincere objection to all wars based upon “reason of religious training and belief,” as set forth in § 3806(j), the definition of Conscientious Objector extends to those whose belief emanates from a purely moral, ethical or philosophical source. Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333(1970). “We certainly do not think that § 6(j)’s exclusion of those persons with ‘essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or merely a personal moral code’ [citing § 6(j) of the Universal Military and Training Act, the precursor to § 3806(j) of the Military Selective Service Act] should be read to exclude those who hold strong beliefs about our domestic and foreign affairs or even those whose conscientious objection to participation in all wars is founded to a substantial extent upon considerations of public policy.” Welsh at 342.

To be exempt from service as a Conscientious Objector, a person must oppose war “in any form.”  Objection to a particular war, but not all wars, is not sufficient for purposes of exemption under §3806(j), even if objection to a particular war is based on religious beliefs.  See Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437, 443 (1971) (citing Welsh).  However, in Sicurella v. United States, the Supreme Court held that a Jehovah’s Witness who opposed participation in all secular wars, but was not opposed to participating “theocratic war” commanded by Jehovah, fit the definition of Conscientious Objector because no such war has occurred since biblical times and “shooting wars” not “theocratic wars” were what Congress had in mind when drafting § 3806(j).  See Gillette at 446-47 citing Sicurella, 348 U.S. 385, 391 (1955).

“Willingness to use force in self-defense, in defense of home and family, or in defense against immediate acts of aggressive violence toward other persons in the community, has not been regarded as inconsistent with a claim of conscientious objection.”  See Gillette at 448 (citing United States v. Haughton, 413 F.2d 736, 740-42 (CA9 1969); United States v. Carroll, 398 F.2d 651, 655 (CA3 1968)).

Persons who oppose participation in all wars, but concede that their present convictions could plausibly change in the future, should not be denied Conscientious Objector status solely on their admission that they cannot guarantee that their convictions are unalterable.  See United States v. Owen, 415 F.2d 383, 390 (CA8 1969).