Duhaime's Law Dictionary

Conscientious Objector Definition:

Someone with a firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason or religious, moral or ethical training and belief.

Related Terms: Conscription

Not every jurisdictions allows a candidate for military service to plead-out of that service on the basis of alleged conscientious objector status.

Commenting on American military law, Justice of the federal Court of Canada, used these words in Walcott v Canada as the individual before the court, an American citizen, was seeking permanent residence status in Canada because, as he argued, he was unable to obtain conscientious objector status in the United States:

"While religious training and belief may include solely moral or ethical beliefs even though the Applicant may not characterize these beliefs as religious in the traditional sense, or may expressly characterize them as not religious, it is a strict requirement that an individual opposes all wars rather than a specific war in order to be eligible for consideration as conscientious objector.

"That being the case, it appears that the Applicant does not meet the definition of a conscientious objector under U.S. military law since he does not object to all wars but only to the war in Iraq."

In Welsh v United States, Justice Black of the United States Supreme Court wrote this of the appellant Elliott Ashton Welsh:

"... deep conscientious scruples against taking part in wars where people were killed .... strongly believed that killing in war was wrong, unethical, and immoral, and their consciences forbade them to take part in such an evil practice. Their objection to participating in war in any form could not be said to come from a still, small voice of conscience; rather, for them that voice was so loud and insistent that both men preferred to go to jail rather than serve in the Armed Forces. There was never any question about the sincerity and depth of (Welsh's) convictions as a conscientious objector....

"Welsh was clearly entitled to a conscientious objector exemption (which) ... exempts from military service all those whose consciences, spurred by deeply held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, would give them no rest or peace if they allowed themselves to become a part of an instrument of war."

A year later, the same court added, in Cassius Clay (aka Muhammad Ali) v United States:

"In order to qualify for classification as a conscientious objector, a registrant must satisfy three basic tests. He must show that he is conscientiously opposed to war in any form. He must show that this opposition is based upon religious training and belief, as the term has been construed in our decisions. And he must show that this objection is sincere. In applying these tests, the Selective Service System must be concerned with the registrant as an individual, not with its own interpretation of the dogma of the religious sect, if any, to which he may belong"


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