Conscientious objector

A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service"[1] on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.[2]

In some countries, conscientious objectors are assigned to an alternative civilian service as a substitute for conscription or military service. Some conscientious objectors consider themselves pacifist, non-interventionist, non-resistant, non-aggressionist, anti-imperialist or antimilitarist.

On March 8, 1995, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights resolution 1995/83 stated that "persons performing military service should not be excluded from the right to have conscientious objections to military service."[3] This was re-affirmed in 1998, when resolution 1998/77 recognized that "persons [already] performing military service may develop conscientious objections."[4][5][6][7] A number of organizations around the world celebrate the principle on May 15 as International Conscientious Objection Day.[8] The term has also been extended to objecting to working for the military–industrial complex due to a crisis of conscience.[9]


Many conscientious objectors have been executed, imprisoned, or otherwise penalized when their beliefs led to actions conflicting with their society's legal system or government. The legal definition and status of conscientious objection has varied over the years and from nation to nation. Religious beliefs were a starting point in many nations for legally granting conscientious objector status.

The first recorded conscientious objector, Maximilianus, was conscripted into the Roman army in the year 295, but "told the Proconsul in Numidia that because of his religious convictions he could not serve in the military." He was executed for this, and was later canonized as Saint Maximilian.[10]

An early recognition of conscientious objection was granted by William the Silent to the Dutch Mennonites in 1575. They could refuse military service in exchange for a monetary payment.[11]

Formal legislation to exempt objectors from fighting was first granted in mid-18th century Great Britain following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. In 1757, when the first attempt was made to establish a British Militia as a professional national military reserve, a clause in the Militia Ballot Act allowed Quakers exemption from military service.[12]

In the United States, conscientious objection was permitted from the country's founding, although regulation was left to individual states prior to the introduction of conscription.[11]

International law

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

In 1948, the issue of the right to "conscience" was dealt with by the United Nations General Assembly in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It reads:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

The proclamation was ratified during the General Assembly on 10 December 1948 by a vote of 48 in favour, 0 against, with 8 abstentions.[13]

Muhammad Ali NYWTS
"I ain't got no quarrel with them Viet Cong ... They never called me nigger." – Muhammad Ali, 1966

In 1974, the Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations, Sean MacBride said, in his Nobel Lecture, "To the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights one more might, with relevance, be added. It is ' The Right to Refuse to Kill.'"[14]

In 1976, the United Nations treaty the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights entered into force. It was based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was originally created in 1966. Nations that have signed this treaty are bound by it. Its Article 18 begins: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. ..."[15]

However, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights left the issue of conscientious objection inexplicit, as we see in this quote from War Resisters International: "Article 18 of the Covenant does put some limits on the right [to freedom of thought, conscience and religion], stating that [its] manifestations must not infringe on public safety, order, health or morals. Some states argue that such limitations [on the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion] would [derivatively] permit them to make conscientious objection during time of war a threat to public safety, or mass conscientious objection a disruption to public order,...[Some states] even [argue] that it is a 'moral' duty to serve the state in its military."[16]

On July 30, 1993, explicit clarification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Article 18 was made in the United Nations Human Rights Committee general comment 22, Paragraph 11: "The Covenant does not explicitly refer to a right to conscientious objection, but the Committee believes that such a right can be derived from article 18, inasmuch as the obligation to use lethal force may seriously conflict with the freedom of conscience and the right to manifest one's religion or belief."[17] In 2006, the Committee has found for the first time a right to conscientious objection under article 18, although not unanimously.[18]

In 1997, an announcement of Amnesty International's forthcoming campaign and briefing for the UN Commission on Human Rights included this quote: "The right to conscientious objection to military service is not a marginal concern outside the mainstream of international human rights protection and promotion."[19]

In 1998, the Human Rights Commission reiterated previous statements and added "states should . . . refrain from subjecting conscientious objectors . . . to repeated punishment for failure to perform military service."[20] It also encouraged states "to consider granting asylum to those conscientious objectors compelled to leave their country of origin because they fear persecution owing to their refusal to perform military service . . . ."[7][21]

In 2001, Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union recognised the right to conscientious objection.[22]

Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status

The Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status (the Handbook) of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states:

171. Not every conviction, genuine though it may be, will constitute a sufficient reason for claiming refugee status after desertion or draft-evasion. It is not enough for a person to be in disagreement with his government regarding the political justification for a particular military action. Where, however, the type of military action, with which an individual does not wish to be associated, is condemned by the international community as contrary to basic rules of human conduct, punishment for desertion or draft-evasion could, in the light of all other requirements of the definition, in itself be regarded as persecution.[23]

Selective conscientious objection

Air Commodore Lionel Charlton, of the British Royal Air Force (RAF), served in the military from 1898 to 1928. In 1923 he selectively refused to serve in the RAF Iraq Command. (He later went on to serve as Air Officer Commanding No 3 Group.)[24]

On June 4, 1967, John Courtney Murray, an American Jesuit priest and theologian, delivered an address at Western Maryland College concerning a more specific type of conscientious objection: "the issue of selective conscientious objection, conscientious objection to particular wars, or as it is sometimes called, discretionary armed service."[25]

On March 8, 1971, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the case of Gillette v. United States that "the exemption for those who oppose "participation in war in any form" applies to those who oppose participating in all war and not to those who object to participation in a particular war only."[26]

On September 24, 2003, in Israel, 27 reserve pilots and former pilots refused to serve in only specific missions. These specific missions included "civilian population centers" in "the [occupied] territories." These pilots clarified: "We ... shall continue to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and the Air Force for every mission in defense of the state of Israel."[27][28]

On May 25, 2005, journalist Jack Random wrote the following: "The case of Sergeant Kevin Benderman (Iraq War Resister) raises the burning issue of selective conscientious objection: While it is universally accepted that an individual cannot be compelled against conscience to war in general, does the same hold for an individual who objects, in the depths of the soul, to a particular war?"[29]

Religious motives

Cases of behavior which could be considered as religiously motivated conscientious objection are historically attested long before the modern term appeared. For example, the Medieval Orkneyinga Saga mentions that Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney – the future Saint Magnus – had a reputation for piety and gentleness, and because of his religious convictions refused to fight in a Viking raid on Anglesey, Wales, instead staying on board his ship singing psalms.

The reasons for refusing to perform military service are varied. Many conscientious objectors cite religious reasons. Unitarian Universalists object to war in their sixth principle "The goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all". Members of the Historic Peace Churches such as Quakers, Mennonites, Amish, Old Order Mennonite, Conservative Mennonites, the Bruderhof Communities[30] and Church of the Brethren object to war from the conviction that Christian life is incompatible with military action, because Jesus enjoins his followers to love their enemies and to refuse violence.[31] Since the American Civil War, Seventh-day Adventists have been known as non-combatants, and have done work in hospitals or to give medical care rather than combat roles, and the church has upheld the non-combative position.[32] Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians, refuse to participate in the armed services on the grounds that they believe they should be neutral in worldly conflicts and often cite the latter portion of Isaiah 2:4 which states, "...neither shall they learn war anymore." Other objections can stem from a deep sense of responsibility toward humanity as a whole, or from simple denial that any government possesses the moral authority to command warlike behavior from its citizens.

The varied experiences of non-combatants are illustrated by those of Seventh-day Adventists when there was mandatory military service: "Many Seventh-day Adventists refuse to enter the army as combatants, but participate as medics, ambulance drivers, etc. During World War II in Germany, many SDA conscientious objectors were sent to concentration camps or mental institutions; some were executed. Some Seventh-day Adventists volunteered for the US Army's Operation Whitecoat, participating in research to help others. The Church preferred to call them "conscientious participants", because they were willing to risk their lives as test subjects in potentially life-threatening research. Over 2,200 Seventh-day Adventists volunteered in experiments involving various infectious agents during the 1950s through the 1970s in Fort Detrick, MD. "[33] Earlier, a schism arose during and after World War I between Seventh-day Adventists in Germany who agreed to serve in the military if conscripted and those who rejected all participation in warfare — the latter group eventually forming a separate church (the Seventh Day Adventist Reform Movement).[34]

Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed are the Peacemakers (1917) by George Bellows.

In the early Christian Church followers of Christ refused to take up arms.

In as much as they [Jesus' teachings] ruled out as illicit all use of violence and injury against others, clearly implied [was] the illegitimacy of participation in war... The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistance in their literal sense. They closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved.

— The Early Christian Attitude to War.

After the Roman Empire officially embraced Christianity, the Just War theology was developed in order to reconcile warfare with Christian belief. After Theodosius I made Christianity an official religion of the Empire, this position slowly developed into the official position of the Western Church. In the 11th century, there was a further shift of opinion in the Latin-Christian tradition with the crusades, strengthening the idea and acceptability of Holy War. Objectors became a minority. Some theologians see the Constantinian shift and the loss of Christian pacifism as a great failing of the Church.

Ben Salmon was a Catholic conscientious objector during World War I and outspoken critic of Just War theology. The Catholic Church denounced him and The New York Times described him as a "spy suspect." The US military (in which he was never inducted) charged him with desertion and spreading propaganda, then sentenced him to death (this was later revised to 25 years hard labor).[35] On June 5, 1917, Salmon wrote in a letter to President Wilson:

Regardless of nationality, all men are brothers. God is "our Father who art in heaven." The commandment "Thou shalt not kill" is unconditional and inexorable. ... The lowly Nazarene taught us the doctrine of non-resistance, and so convinced was he of the soundness of that doctrine that he sealed his belief with death on the cross. When human law conflicts with Divine law, my duty is clear. Conscience, my infallible guide, impels me to tell you that prison, death, or both, are infinitely preferable to joining any branch of the Army.[36]

Because of their conscientious objection to participation in military service, whether armed or unarmed, Jehovah's Witnesses have often faced imprisonment or other penalties. In Greece, for example, before the introduction of alternative civilian service in 1997, hundreds of Witnesses were imprisoned, some for three years or even more for their refusal. In Armenia, young Jehovah's Witnesses were imprisoned because of their conscientious objection to military service; this was discontinued in November 2013.[37] The government of South Korea also imprisons hundreds for refusing the draft. In Switzerland, virtually every Jehovah's Witness is exempted from military service. The Finnish government exempts Jehovah's Witnesses from the draft completely.

For believers in Indian religions, the opposition to warfare may be based on either the general idea of ahimsa, nonviolence, or on an explicit prohibition of violence by their religion, e.g., for a Buddhist, one of the five precepts is "Pānātipātā veramaṇi sikkhāpadam samādiyāmi," or "I undertake the precept to refrain from destroying living creatures," which is in obvious opposition to the practice of warfare. The 14th Dalai Lama has stated that war "should be relegated to the dustbin of history." On the other hand, many Buddhist sects, especially in Japan, have been thoroughly militarized, warrior monks (yamabushi or sōhei) participating in the civil wars. Hindu beliefs do not go against the concept of war, as seen in the Gita. Both Sikhs and Hindus believe war should be a last resort and should be fought to sustain life and morality in society.

Bahá'ís are advised to do social service instead of active army service, but when this is not possible because of obligations in certain countries, the Bahá'í law of loyalty to one's government is preferred and the individual should perform the army service.[38][39]

Some practitioners of pagan religions, particularly Wicca, may object on the grounds of the Wiccan rede, which states "An it harm none, do what ye will" (or variations). The threefold law may also be grounds for objection.

A notable example of a conscientious objector was the Austrian devout Roman Catholic Christian Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed on August 9, 1943 for openly refusing to serve in the Nazi Wehrmacht, consciously accepting the penalty of death. He was declared Blessed by Pope Benedict XVI in 2007 for dying for his beliefs, and is viewed as a symbol of self-sacrificing resistance.

Alternatives for objectors

Some conscientious objectors are unwilling to serve the military in any capacity, while others accept noncombatant roles. While conscientious objection is usually the refusal to collaborate with military organizations, as a combatant in war or in any supportive role, some advocate compromising forms of conscientious objection. One compromising form is to accept non-combatant roles during conscription or military service. Alternatives to military or civilian service include serving an imprisonment or other punishment for refusing conscription, falsely claiming unfitness for duty by feigning an allergy or a heart condition, delaying conscription until the maximum drafting age, or seeking refuge in a country which does not extradite those wanted for military conscription. Avoiding military service is sometimes labeled draft dodging, particularly if the goal is accomplished through dishonesty or evasive maneuvers. However, many people who support conscription will distinguish between "bona fide" conscientious objection and draft dodging, which they view as evasion of military service without a valid excuse.

Conservative Mennonites do not object to serving their country in peaceful alternatives (alternative service) such as hospital work, farming, forestry, road construction and similar occupations. Their objection is in being part in any military capacity whether noncombatant or regular service. During World War II and the Korean, Vietnam war eras they served in many such capacities in alternative I-W service programs initially through the Mennonite Central Committee and now through their own alternatives.

Despite the fact that international institutions such as the United Nations (UN) and the Council of Europe (CoE) regard and promote conscientious objection as a human right,[40] as of 2004, it still does not have a legal basis in most countries. Among the roughly one-hundred countries that have conscription, only thirty countries have some legal provisions, 25 of them in Europe. In Europe, most countries with conscription more or less fulfill international guidelines on conscientious objection legislation (except for Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Finland and Russia) today. In many countries outside Europe, especially in armed conflict areas (e.g. Democratic Republic of the Congo), conscientious objection is punished severely.

While conscientious objectors used to be seen as deserters, traitors, cowards, slackers or simply un-patriotic, their image has changed drastically in the Western world in past decades. Especially in Europe, where objectors usually serve an alternative civilian service, they are regarded as making an equally important contribution to society as conscripts. Parallel to that, the number of objectors has risen significantly, too: e.g., in Germany, where conscientious objection is a constitutional right, from less than one percent of all eligible men to more than fifty percent in 2003. In 1991, The Peace Abbey established the National Registry for Conscientious Objection where people can publicly state their refusal to participate in armed conflict.

Conscientious objection around the world


Conscription was mandatory to all able-bodied Belgian males until 1994, when it was suspended. Civilian service was possible since 1963. Objectors could apply for the status of conscience objector. When granted, they did an alternative service with the civil service or with a socio-cultural organisation. The former would last 1.5 times as long as the shortest military service, the latter twice as long.

After their service, objectors are not allowed to take jobs that require them to carry weapons, such as police jobs, until the age of 42.

Since conscription was suspended in 1994 and military service is voluntary, the status of conscience objector can not be granted anymore in Belgium.


Mennonites and other similar peace churches in Canada were automatically exempt from any type of service during Canada's involvement in World War I by provisions of the Order in Council of 1873 yet initially, many were imprisoned until the matter was again resettled. With pressure of public opinion, the Canadian government barred entry of additional Mennonite and Hutterite immigrants, rescinding the privileges of the Order in Council.[41] During Canada's involvement in World War II, Canadian conscientious objectors were given the options of noncombatant military service, serving in the medical or dental corps under military control or working in parks and on roads under civilian supervision. Over 95% chose the latter and were placed in Alternative Service camps.[42][43] Initially the men worked on road building, forestry and firefighting projects. After May 1943, as the labour shortage developed within the nation and another Conscription Crisis burgeoned, men were shifted into agriculture, education and industry. The 10,700 Canadian objectors were mostly Mennonites (63%) and Dukhobors (20%).[44]


Conscientious objection is not recognised in Colombia, which has occasionally resulted of the detention and forced recruitment of those who refuse the draft. This is despite the fact that the Colombia constitutional court has ruled that conscientious objection is protected by the constitution in 2012. War Resisters' International's report on conscientious objection in Colombia Before being ruled unconstitutional by the court as illegal in Sentence T-455/14, people were at risk of batidas - raids in the street and public spaces - where young people were rounded up and forcibly recruited if they could not prove they had already undergone military service.


In Czechoslovakia, those not willing to enter mandatory military service could avoid it by signing a contract for work lasting years in unattractive occupations, such as mining. Those who didn't sign were imprisoned. Both numbers were tiny. After the communist party lost its power in 1989, alternative civil service was established. As of 2006, both the Czech Republic and Slovakia have abolished conscription.


Any male getting drafted, but unwilling to serve, has the possibility to avoid military service by instead serving community service for the duration of the conscription.


There is no right to conscientious objection to military service in Eritrea - which is of an indefinite length - and those who refuse the draft are imprisoned. Some Jehovah's Witness conscientious objectors have been in jail since 1994.[45]


Finland introduced conscription in 1881, but its enforcement was suspended in 1903 as part of Russification. During the Finnish Civil War in 1918, conscription was reintroduced for all able-bodied men. In 1922, the option of noncombatant military service was introduced, but service in the military remained compulsory on pain of imprisonment. After the struggle of pacifist Arndt Pekurinen a law was passed providing for a peacetime-only alternative to military service, or civilian service (Finnish siviilipalvelus). The law was dubbed "Lex Pekurinen" after him. During the Winter War, Pekurinen and other conscientious objectors were imprisoned, and Pekurinen was eventually executed at the front in 1941, during the Continuation War.

After the war, a conscientious objector's civilian service lasted 16 months, whereas military service was 8 months at its shortest. To qualify for civilian service, an objector had to explain his conviction before a board of inspection that included military officers and clergymen. In 1987, the duration of the service was shortened to 13 months and the board of inspection was abolished. In 2008, the term was further shortened to 12 months to match the duration of the longest military service (that of officer trainees and technical crew). Today, a person subject to conscription may apply for civilian service at any time before or during his military service, and the application is accepted as a matter of course. A female performing voluntary military service can quit her service anytime during the first 45 days, however, if she wants to quit after those 45 days she would be treated like a male and assigned to civilian service.

Persons who have completed their civilian service during peacetime have, according to the legislation enacted in 2008, the right to serve in non-military duties also during a crisis situation. They may be called to serve in various duties with the rescue services or other necessary work of a non-military nature. Persons who declare themselves to be conscientious objectors only after a crisis has started must, however, prove their conviction before a special board. Before the new legislation, the right to conscientious objection was acknowledged only in peacetime. The changes to the service term and to the legal status of objectors during a crisis situation were made as a response to human rights concerns voiced by several international bodies,[46][47] who are overseeing the implementation of human rights agreements. These organisations had demanded Finland to take measures to improve its legislation concerning conscientious objectors, which they considered discriminatory. None of these organisations have yet raised concerns on the current legislation.

There are a small number of total objectors who refuse even civilian service, and are imprisoned for six months. This is not registered into the person's criminal record.


Stamp created by the Centre de défense des objecteurs de conscience (around 1936).

The creation of a legal status for conscientious objectors in France was the subject of a long struggle involving for instance or the much-publicised trials of Protestant activists Jacques Martin, Philippe Vernier and Camille Rombault in 1932–1933[48] or the hunger strike of anarchist Louis Lecoin in 1962.

The legal status law was passed in December 1963, 43 years (and many prison sentences) after the first requests.

In 1983, a new law passed by socialist Interior Minister Pierre Joxe considerably improved this status, simplifying the conditions under which the status would be granted. Conscientious objectors were then free to choose an activity in the social realm where they would spend their civil service time. However, in order to avoid too many applications for civil service at the expense of the military, the duration of the civil service is however kept twice as long as the military service.

The effect of these laws was suspended in 2001 when compulsory military service was abolished in France. The special prison at Strasbourg for Jehovah's Witnesses, who refuse to join any military, was also abolished.

Since 1986, the associations defending conscientious objection in France have chosen to celebrate their cause on 15 May.[49]


Under the Nazis, conscientious objection was not recognized in the law. In theory, objectors would be drafted and then court-martialled for desertion. The practice was even harsher: going beyond the letter of an already extremely flexible law, conscientious objection was considered subversion of military strength, a crime normally punished with death. On September 15, 1939 August Dickmann, a Jehovah's Witness, and the first conscientious objector of the war to be executed, died by a firing squad at the Sachsenhausen concentration camp.[50] Among others, Franz Jägerstätter was executed after his conscientious objection, on the grounds that he could not fight in the forces of the evil side. He is now somewhat the patron saint of conscientious objectors.

After World War II, there was no official right to conscientious objection in the German Democratic Republic. Nevertheless, and uniquely among the Eastern bloc, objections were accepted and the objectors assigned to construction units. They were however part of the military, so that a fully civilian alternative did not exist. Also, "construction soldiers" were discriminated against in their later professional life.[51][52]

According to Article 4(3) of the German constitution (Grundgesetz): "No person may be forced against their conscience to perform armed military service. Details shall be regulated by a federal law."

According to Article 12a, a law may be passed to require every male from the age of 18 to military service called Wehrdienst; also, a law can require conscientious objectors to perform non-military service instead called Wehrersatzdienst, literally "military replacement service", or colloquially Zivildienst. These laws were applicable and demanded compulsory service in the German Bundeswehr until the abolition of draft in 2011. Initially, conscientious objectors each had to appear in person to a panel hearing at the draft office (or contest a negative decision at the administrative court). The suspension of the procedure (1977), allowing to "object with a post card", was ruled unconstitutional in 1978. Beginning in 1983, competence was shifted to the Kreiswehrersatzamt (military replacement office), which had discretion to either approve or reject a conscientious objection, which had to consist of a detailed written statement by an applicant giving reasons as to why the applicant was conscientiously objecting. This was generally just a formality, and objections were not often rejected. In later years in particular however, with the rise of the Internet, conscientious objections fell into disrepute because of the ease of being able to simply download existing example objections. It earned some conscientious objections the suspicion of an applicant simply attempting an easy way out of military service. On the other hand, certain organizations within the German peace movement had been offering pamphlets for decades giving suggestions to applicants as to the proper wording and structure of an objection which would have the greatest chances of success.

Following a 1985 Federal Constitution Court decision, Wehrersatzdienst could be no simple choice of convenience for an applicant, but he had to cite veritable conflict of conscience which made him unable to perform any kind of military service at all. If there was doubt about the true nature of an objector's application, he could be summoned to appear before a panel at the Kreiswehrersatzamt to explain his reasons in person. An approved conscientious objection in any case then meant that an applicant was required by law to perform Wehrersatzdienst. Complete objection both to military and replacement service was known as Totalverweigerung; it was illegal and could be punished with a fine or a suspended custodial sentence.

Nearly the only legal way to get both out of military service and replacement service was to be deemed physically unfit for military service. Both men who entered military service and those who wanted to go into replacement service had to pass a military physical examination at the military replacement office. Five categories/levels of physical fitness, or Tauglichkeitsstufen, existed. Tauglichkeitsstufe 5, in short T5, meant that a person was rejected for military service and thus also did not need to enter replacement service. T5 status was usually only granted if a person had physical or mental disabilities or was otherwise significantly impaired, such as due to very poor eyesight or debilitating chronic illnesses.

Another way to get out of service completely was the two brothers rule, which stated that if two older brothers had already served in the military, any following male children of a family were exempt from service.

Due to West Berlin's special status between the end of the Second World War and 1990 as a city governed by foreign military powers, draft did not apply within its borders. This made Berlin a safe haven for many young people who chose to move to the city to prevent criminal court repercussions for Totalverweigerung. As Totalverweigerer were often part of the far-left political spectrum, this was one factor which spawned a politically active left-wing and left-wing radical scene in the city.

Wehrersatzdienst was for a long time considerably longer than military service, by up to a third, even when the duration of service was gradually reduced following reunification and the end of the Cold War. This was held by some as a violation of constitutional principles, but was upheld in several court decisions based on the reasoning that former service personnel could be redrafted for military exercises called Wehrübungen, while somebody who had served out his replacement service could not. Moreover, work conditions under military service typically involved more hardship and inconvenience than Wehrersatzdienst. In 2004, military service and Wehrersatzdienst were then made to last equal lengths of time.

Military service and draft were controversial during much of their existence. Reasons included the consideration that Germans could be made to fight against their fellow Germans in East Germany. Moreover, draft only applied to men, which was seen as gender based discrimination by some, but was often countered by the argument that women usually gave up their careers either temporarily or permanently to raise their children. With the end of the Cold War and the German military's primary purpose of defending its home territory increasingly looking doubtful, draft also began to become more arbitrary, as only certain portions of a particular birth year were drafted (usually those in very healthy physcial condition), while others weren't. This was seen as a problem of Wehrgerechtigkeit, or equal justice of military service.

Then-German President Roman Herzog said in a 1994 speech (which was frequently cited as an argument for draft abolition) that only the necessity for national defense, not any other arguments can justify draft. On the other hand, this logic tended to not be extended to men serving Wehrersatzdienst, as they usually worked in fields of public health, elderly care, medical assistance or assistance for the disabled. Their relatively low-paid work was seen as an ever more important backbone of a health sector which was grappling with rapidly increasing costs of care.

Draft was finally abolished in Germany in 2011, mainly due to a perceived lack of aforementioned necessity. The German Bundeswehr now solely relies on service members who deliberately choose it as a career path. Neither Article 12a (establishing the possibility of draft) nor Article 4 (3) (permitting conscientious objection) have been removed from the German Constitution. In theory, this makes a full reversion to draft (and Wehrersatzdienst) possible if it is thought to be necessary.


All Israeli citizens and permanent residents are liable to military service. However, the Ministry of Defense has used its discretion under article 36 of this law to automatically exempt all non-Jewish women and all Arab men, except for the Druze, from military service ever since Israel was established. Israeli Arabs may volunteer to perform military service, but very few do so (except among the Bedouin population of Israel).[53]

In discussing the status of the armed forces shortly after the founding of the State of Israel, representatives of orthodox religious parties argued that yeshiva students should be exempt from military service. This derives from the Jewish tradition that if a man wants to dedicate his life to religious study, society must allow him to do so. The request of orthodox political parties to 'prevent neglect of studying the Torah' was granted by the authorities. But in recent years this exemption practice has become the subject of debate in Israeli society, as the absolute and the relative numbers of the men who received this exemption rose sharply.[54] In 2012, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled in the case of Ressler et al. v. The Knesset et al..[55] that the blanket exemption granted to ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students was ultra vires the authority of the Minister of Defence, and that it violated Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and was, therefore, unconstitutional.

As for conscientious objection, in 2002, in the case of David Zonschein et al. v. Military Advocate General et al.,[55] the Supreme Court reiterated its position that selective conscientious objection was not permitted, adding that conscientious objection could only be recognized in cases of general objection to military service.

Women can claim exemption from military service on grounds of conscience under arts. 39 (c) and 40 of the Defense Service Law, according to which religious reasons can be grounds for exemption.[53]


Until 2004 conscription was mandatory to all able-bodied Italian males. Those who were born in the last months of the year typically used to serve in the Navy, unless judged unable for ship service (in this case they could be sent back to Army or Air Force). Until 1972, objectors were considered as traitors and tried by a military tribunal; after 1972, objectors could choose an alternative civilian service, which was eight months longer than standard military service (fifteen months, then twelve, as for Army and Air Force, 24 months, then eighteen, then twelve as for the Navy). Since such length was judged too punitive, an arrangement was made to make the civilian service as long as the military service. Since 2004, Italian males no longer need to object because military service has been turned into volunteer for both males and females.

Marshall Islands

In the Republic of the Marshall Islands no person can be conscripted if, after being afforded a reasonable opportunity to do so, he has established that he is a conscientious objector to participation in war (Marshall Islands Constitution Article II Section 11).


In Romania, as of 23 October 2006 conscription was suspended, therefore, the status of conscience objector does not apply.[56] This came about due to a 2003 constitutional amendment which allowed the parliament to make military service optional. The Romanian Parliament voted to abolish conscription in October 2005, with the vote formalizing one of many military modernization and reform programs that Romania agreed to when it joined NATO.


The Russian Empire allowed Russian Mennonites to run and maintain forestry service units in South Russia in lieu of their military obligation. The program was under church control from 1881 through 1918, reaching a peak of seven thousand conscientious objectors during World War I. An additional five thousand Mennonites formed complete hospital units and transport wounded from the battlefield to Moscow and Ekaterinoslav hospitals.[57]

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Leon Trotsky issued a decree allowing alternative service for religious objectors whose sincerity was determined upon examination.[58] Vladimir Chertkov, a follower of Leo Tolstoy, chaired the United Council of Religious Fellowships and Groups, which successfully freed 8000 conscientious objectors from military service during the Russian Civil War. The law was not applied uniformly and hundreds of objectors were imprisoned and over 200 were executed.The United Council was forced to cease activity in December 1920, but alternative service was available under the New Economic Policy until it was abolished in 1936.[59] Unlike the earlier forestry and hospital service, later conscientious objectors were classified "enemies of the people" and their alternative service was performed in remote areas in a gulag-like environment in order to break their resistance and encourage enlistment.[60]

In the present day, Russian draft legislation allows people to choose an alternative civilian service for religious or ideological reasons. Most objectors are employed in healthcare, construction, forestry and post industries, serving 18 to 21 months.

South Africa

During the 1980s, hundreds[61] of South African white males dodged the draft, refused the call-up or objected to conscription in the South African Defence Force. Some simply deserted, or joined organisations such as the End Conscription Campaign, an anti-war movement banned in 1988, while others fled into exile and joined the Committee on South African War Resistance. Most lived in a state of internal exile, forced to go underground within the borders of the country until a moratorium on conscription was declared in 1993. Opposition to the Angolan War, "South Africa's Vietnam," was rife in English-speaking campuses, and later the war in the townships became the focus of these groupings.

South Korea

The terminology conscientious objector technically has not existed in Korean dictionary until recently. In fact, significant majority of Korean citizens simply associate conscientious objectors with draft dodging, and are unaware of the fact that conscientious objector draftees in other westernized countries are required to serve in alternative services. Since the establishment of the Republic of Korea, thousands of conscientious objectors had no choice but to be imprisoned as criminals. Every year about 500 young men, mostly Jehovah's Witnesses,[62] are arrested for refusing the draft.[63]

South Korea's stance has drawn criticism from The U.N. Human Rights Committee, which argues that South Korea is violating article 18 of the ICCPR, which guarantees freedom of thought and conscience. In 2006, 2010, and again in 2011 the U.N. Human Rights Committee, after reviewing petitions from South Korean conscientious objectors, declared that the government was violating Article 18 of the ICCPR, the provision that guarantees the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.[64]

The government's National Action Plan (NAP) for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights has not shown a clear stance on the pressing human rights issues such as, among other things, the rights of conscientious objectors to military service.[65]

In September 2007 the government announced a program to give conscientious objectors an opportunity to participate in alternative civilian service.[66] The program stipulates three years of civilian service that is not connected with the military in any way. However, that program has been postponed indefinitely after the succeeding administration took office in 2008.[64]

The government argues that introducing an alternative service would jeopardize national security and undermine social equality and cohesion. This is amid an increasing number of countries which retain compulsory service have introduced alternatives. In addition, some countries, including those with national security concerns have shown that alternative service can be successfully implemented.[64]

On January 15, 2009, the Korean Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths in the Military released its decision acknowledging that the government was responsible for the deaths of five young men, who were Jehovah's Witnesses and had forcibly been conscripted into the army. The deaths resulted from "the state's anti-human rights violence" and "its acts of brutality" during the 1970s that continued into the mid-1980s. This decision is significant since it is the first one recognizing the state's responsibility for deaths resulting from violence within the military.[67][68] According to the Commission's decision, "the beatings and acts of brutality committed against them by military officials were attempts to compel and coerce them to act against their conscience (religion) and were unconstitutional, anti-human rights acts that infringed severely upon the freedom of conscience (religion) guaranteed in the Constitution."[67]

The records of conscientious objectors to military service are kept by a governmental investigative body as criminal files for five years. As a consequence, conscientious objectors are not allowed to enter a government office and apply for any type of national certification exam. It is also very unlikely that they will be employed by any company that inquires about criminal records.[69]

Conscientious objectors ... often spend the rest of their lives tainted by their decision... Criminal records from draft dodging make it difficult for objectors to find good jobs and the issue of army service is often raised by potential employers during job interviews.[63]

From 2000 to 2008, Korean Military Manpower Administration said that at least 4,958 men have objected to service in the military because of religious beliefs. Among those, 4,925 were Jehovah's Witnesses, 3 were Buddhists, and the other 30 refused the mandatory service because of conscientious objections other than religious reasons.[70] Since 1950, there have been more than 16,000 Jehovah's Witnesses sentenced to a combined total of 31,256 years for refusing to perform military service. If alternative service is not provided, some 500 to 900 young men will continue to be added each year to the list of conscientious objectors criminalized in Korea.[71]

In 2015, Lee Yeda was the first conscientious objector to be allowed to live in France via asylum.[72][73]

In June 2018, the Constitutional Court ruled 6-3 that Article 5 of the country's Military Service Act is unconstitutional because it fails to provide an alternative civilian national service for conscientious objectors. As of 2018, 19,300 South Korean conscientious objectors had gone to prison since 1953. The Defense Ministry said it would honor the ruling by introducing alternative services as soon as possible.[74]


Conscientious objection was not permitted in Francoist Spain.[75] Conscientious objectors usually refused to serve on religious grounds, such as being Jehovah's Witnesses, and were placed in prison for the duration of their sentences. The Spanish Constitution of 1978 acknowledged conscientious objectors.[76] The Spanish parliament established a longer service (Prestación Social Sustitutoria) as an alternative to the Army. In spite of this, a strong movement appeared that refused both services. The Red Cross was the only important organisation employing objectors. Because of this, the waiting lists for the PSS were long, especially in areas like Navarre, where pacifism, Basque nationalism and a low unemployment rate discouraged young males from the army. Thousands of insumisos (non-submittants) publicly refused the PSS, and hundreds were imprisoned. In addition a number of those in the military decided to refuse further duties. A number of people not liable for military service made declarations of self-incrimination, stating that they had encouraged insumisión. The government, fearing popular reaction, reduced the length of service and instead of sentencing insumisos to prison declared them unfit for public service.

Fronting the decreasing birth rate and the popular opposition to the army, the Spanish government tried to modernise the model carried from the Franco era, professionalizing it. The new army tried to provide an education for civilian life and participated in peace operations in Bosnia.


The issue is highly controversial in Turkey. Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan are the only three countries refusing to recognize conscientious objection and sustain their membership in the Council of Europe. In January 2006, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) found Turkey had violated article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (prohibition of degrading treatment) in a case dealing with the conscientious objection of Osman Murat Ulke.[77] In 2005, Mehmet Tarhan was sentenced to four years in a military prison as a conscientious objector (he was unexpectedly released in March 2006). Journalist Perihan Magden was tried by a Turkish court for supporting Tarhan and advocating conscientious objection as a human right; but later, she was acquitted.

As of March 2011, there were 125 objectors including 25 female objectors in Turkey. Another 256 people of Kurdish origin also had announced their conscientious objection to military service.[78] Conscientious objector İnan Süver was named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.[79]

On 14 November 2011, the Ministry of Justice announced a draft proposal to legalise conscientious objection in Turkey and that it was to take effect two weeks after approval by the President to the change.[80] This decision to legalize by the Turkish government was because of pressure from the European Court of Human Rights. The ECHR gave the Turkish government a deadline until the end of 2011 to legalize conscientious objection. The draft was withdrawn afterwards.

A commission was founded within the National Assembly of the Republic to write a new constitution in 2012. The commission is still in negotiations on various articles and conscientious objection is one of the most controversial issues.

United Kingdom

The United Kingdom recognised the right of individuals not to fight in the 18th century following problems with attempting to force Quakers into military service. The Militia Ballot Act of 1757 allowed Quakers to be excluded from service in the Militia. It then ceased to be a major issue, since Britain's armed forces were generally all-volunteer. However, press gangs were used to beef up army and navy rolls on occasions from the 16th to the early 19th centuries. Pressed men did have the right of appeal, in the case of sailors, to the Admiralty. The Royal Navy last took pressed men in the Napoleonic War.

Conscientious Objector memorial, Tavistock Sq Gardens
Conscientious Objector memorial in Tavistock Square Gardens, London — dedicated on 15 May 1994

A more general right to refuse military service was not introduced until the First World War. Britain introduced conscription with the Military Service Act of January 1916, which came into full effect on 2 March 1916. The Act allowed for objectors to be absolutely exempted, to perform alternative civilian service, or to serve as a non-combatant in the army's Non-Combatant Corps, according to the extent to which they could convince a Military Service Tribunal of the quality of their objection.[81]

Around 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors, with Quakers, traditionally pacifist, forming a large proportion: 4,500 objectors were exempted on condition of doing civilian 'work of national importance', such as farming, forestry or social service; and 7,000 were conscripted into the specially-created Non-Combatant Corps. However, 6,000 were refused any exemption and forced into main army regiments; if they then refused to obey orders, they were court-martialled and sent to prison. Thus, the well-known pacifist and religious writer Stephen Henry Hobhouse was called up in 1916: he and many other Quaker activists took the unconditionalist stand, refusing both military and alternative service, and on enforced enlistment were court-martialled and imprisoned for disobedience.[82] Conscientious objectors formed only a tiny proportion of Military Service Tribunals' cases over the whole conscription period, estimated at around 2%.[83] Tribunals were notoriously harsh towards conscientious objectors, reflecting widespread public opinion that they were lazy, degenerate, ungrateful 'shirkers' seeking to benefit from the sacrifices of others.[84]

Thirty-five objectors, including the Richmond Sixteen, were taken to France and formally sentenced to death by court-martial but immediately reprieved, with commutation to ten-years' penal servitude.[85] Conditions were very hard for conscientious objector prisoners, many of whom were not used to manual work, lack of regular exercise, and the often cold, damp conditions; ten died in prison, and around seventy more died elsewhere as a result of their treatment.

Although a few objectors were accepted for non-combatant service in the Royal Army Medical Corps, acting as nursing/paramedic assistants, the majority of non-combatants served in the Non-Combatant Corps on non-lethal stores, road and railway building and general labouring in the UK and France. Conscientious objectors who were deemed not to have made any useful contribution to the state were formally disfranchised (through a clause inserted in the Representation of the People Act 1918 at the insistence of back-bench MPs) for the five years 1 September 1921 - 31 August 1926, but as it was a last-minute amendment there was no administrative machinery to enforce such disfranchisement, which was admitted to be a "dead letter".[86]

Britain's conscription legislation of 1916 did not apply to Ireland, despite it being then all part of the United Kingdom. However, in 1918 the Army's continuing demand for more troops led to passing a further act enabling conscription in Ireland if and when the government saw fit. In the event, the government never saw fit, although the legislation led to the Conscription Crisis of 1918. Similarly, British conscription in the Second World War did not apply to Northern Ireland. Nevertheless, many Irishmen volunteered to fight in both world wars. The various parts of the British Empire and Commonwealth had their own laws: in general, all the larger countries of the Empire participated, and some were, in proportion to their population, major participants in the First World War.

In the Second World War, following the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939, there were nearly 60,000 registered Conscientious Objectors. Testing by tribunals resumed, this time by special Conscientious Objection Tribunals chaired by a judge, and the effects were much less harsh. If you were not a member of the Quakers or some similar pacifist organisation, it was generally enough to say that you objected to "warfare as a means of settling international disputes", a phrase from the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928. The tribunals could grant full exemption, exemption conditional on alternative service, exemption only from combatant duties, or dismiss the application. Of the 61,000 who were registered, 3,000 were given complete exemption; 18,000 applications were initially dismissed, but a number of such applicants succeeded at the Appellate Tribunal, sometimes after a "qualifying" sentence of three-months' imprisonment for an offence deemed to have been committed on grounds of conscience. Of those directed to non-combatant military service almost 7,000 were allocated to the Non-Combatant Corps, re-activated in mid-1940; its companies worked in clothing and food stores, in transport, or any military project not requiring the handling of "material of an aggressive nature". In November 1940 it was decided to allow troops in the NCC to volunteer for work in bomb disposal.[87] In total over 350 volunteered.[87] Other non-combatants worked in the Royal Army Medical Corps. For conscientious objectors exempted conditional upon performing civil work, acceptable occupations were farm work, mining, firefighting and the ambulance service. About 5,500 objectors were imprisoned, most charged with refusal to attend a medical examination as a necessary preliminary to call-up after being refused exemption, and some charged with non-compliance with the terms of conditional exemption. A further 1,000 were court-martialled by the armed forces and sent to military detention barracks or civil prisons. Differently from the First World War, most sentences were relatively short, and there was no pattern of continually repeated sentences. Nevertheless, the social stigma attached to 'conchies' (as they were called) was considerable; regardless of the genuineness of their motives, cowardice was often imputed.

Conscription in the United Kingdom was retained, with rights of conscientious objection, as National Service until the last call-up in 1960 and the last discharge in 1963. The use of all volunteer soldiers was hoped to remove the need to consider conscientious objectors. Ever since the First World War, however, there have been volunteer members of the armed forces who have developed a conscientious objection to continuing in service; a procedure was devised for them in the Second World War, and, with adaptations, it continues to this day.

United States

There are currently legal provisions in the United States for recognizing conscientious objection, both through the Selective Service System and through the Department of Defense. The United States recognizes religious and moral objections, but not selective objections. Conscientious objectors in the United States may perform either civilian work or noncombatant service in lieu of combatant military service.[88]

Historically, conscientious objectors have been persecuted in the United States. After the Selective Service System was founded during World War I, such persecutions decreased in frequency, and recognition for conscientious objectors grew.

Other countries

As of 2005, conscientious objectors in several countries may serve as field paramedics in the army (although some do not consider this a genuine alternative, as they feel it merely helps to make war more humane instead of preventing it). Alternatively, they may serve without arms, although this, too, has its problems. In certain European countries such as Austria, Germany, Greece and Switzerland, there is the option of performing civilian service, subject to the review of a written application or after a hearing about the state of conscience. In Germany, however, the draft was suspended in 2011.[89] In Greece, civilian service is twice as long as the corresponding military service; the Swiss Civilian Service is one and one-half times longer. In 2005, the Swiss parliament considered whether willingness to serve one and a half times longer than an army recruit was sufficient proof of sincerity, citing that the cost of judging the state of conscience of a few thousand men per year was too great.

Conscientious objection in professional forces

Only three European Union countries – Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – recognize the right to conscientious objection for contract and professional military personnel.[90]

In the United States, military personnel who come to a conviction of conscientious objection during their tour of duty must appear in front of a panel of experts, which consists of psychiatrists, military chaplains and officers.

In Switzerland, the panel consists entirely of civilians, and military personnel have no authority whatsoever. In Germany, the draft has been suspended since 2011.[91]

Common questions

Investigators ask questions to determine the sincerity of an individual's convictions. Responses such as "the army is senseless," "it is not just to wage wars," or opposing participation in merely some wars, indicate sociological, philosophical, or political objections, which are not accepted alone.[92]

Swiss hearings

The following are questions often asked of conscientious objectors in Swiss hearings.[93]

Category Questions
Generality How and when did you decide against the military service?
Why can't you arrange military service with your conscience?
What prohibits you from serving in the military?
Military service Do you fear having to fight, or to use force?
Do you want to abolish the army?
What do you think about the phrase "We have the army to defend us, not to kill others"?
Use of force What would you do if you were attacked?
What do you feel when you see that others are attacked?
What is violence, exactly?
Would you rather experience losses than having to use force?
Belief What do your beliefs say?
Would you describe yourself as a pacifist?
What basic values, besides objecting to violence, do you have?
What entity gives you the certainty that your thinking and your feelings are right?
Implementation of your beliefs Why didn't you choose to go into prison if your conscience is that strong?
Why didn't you use medical reasons to avoid military service?
What do you actually do to further peace, or is your attitude the only peaceful thing about you?
Personality Who is in charge of defending your children in case of an armed conflict?
Do you live your ethical principles inside your family?
What books do you read?
What do you demand from yourself?
Are you merely a leader, a follower, or a loner?

See also


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  85. ^ Silence in castle to honour First World War conscientious objectors dated 25 June 2013 at, accessed 19 October 2014
  86. ^ A. J. P. Taylor, English History, 1914–1945 (Oxford University Press, 1990), p. 116; FWW Pacifists at
  87. ^ a b Jappy, M.J (2001). Danger UXB The Remarkable Story of the Disposal of Unexploded Bombs During the Second World War. Channel 4 books. p. 92. ISBN 0-7522-1938-3.
  88. ^ "Conscientious Objection and Alternative Service". Selective Service System.
  89. ^ (, Deutsche Welle. "Germany to suspend compulsory military service - Germany - DW - 10.12.2010". DW.COM. Retrieved 12 August 2017.
  90. ^ War Resisters' International, Professional Soldiers and the Right to Conscientious Objection in the European Union October 2008, p. 6, downloadable from "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2012-01-18. Retrieved 2011-10-25.
  91. ^ GmbH, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. "Aktuelle Nachrichten online". FAZ.NET. Retrieved 2016-10-12.
  92. ^ 50 U.S.C. 3806(j)
  93. ^ Beratungsstelle für Militärverweigerung und Zivildienst.

Further reading

  • Alexander, Paul, (2008),Peace to War: Shifting Allegiances in the Assemblies of God. Telford, PA: Cascadia Publishing/Herald Press. A history and analysis of conscientious objection in the Assemblies of God, the largest Pentecostal denomination.
  • Selective Service, "Conscientious Objection and Alternative Service: Who Qualifies"
  • Bennett, Scott H. (2005). Army GI, Pacifist CO: The World War II Letters of Frank and Albert Dietrich (Fordham Univ. Press).
  • Bennett, Scott H. (2003). Radical Pacifism: The War Resisters League and Gandhian Nonviolence in America, 1915–1963. (Syracuse Univ. Press).
  • Keim, Albert N. (1990). The CPS Story: An Illustrated History of Civilian Public Service, pp. 75–79. Good Books. ISBN 1-56148-002-9
  • Gingerich, Melvin (1949), Service for Peace, A History of Mennonite Civilian Public Service, Mennonite Central Committee.
  • Krahn, Cornelius, Gingerich, Melvin & Harms, Orlando (Eds.) (1955). The Mennonite Encyclopedia, Volume I, pp. 76–78. Mennoniite Publishing House.
  • Matthews, Mark (2006). Smoke Jumping on the Western Fire Line: Conscientious Objectors during World War II, University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 978-0806137667
  • Mock, Melanie Springer (2003). Writing Peace: The Unheard Voices of Great War Mennonite Objectors, Cascadia Publishing House. ISBN 1-931038-09-0
  • Moorehead, Caroline (1987). Troublesome People: Enemies of War, 1916–86, Hamish Hamilton Ltd, ISBN 0-241-12105-1
  • Pannabecker, Samuel Floyd (1975), Open Doors: A History of the General Conference Mennonite Church, Faith and Life Press. ISBN 0-87303-636-0
  • Quakers in Britain — Conscientious Objectors.
  • Smith, C. Henry (1981). Smith's Story of the Mennonites. Revised and expanded by Cornelius Krahn. Newton, Kansas: Faith and Life Press. pp. 299–300, 311. ISBN 0-87303-069-9.
  • Spartacus Education Pacifism page.
  • McNair, Donald (2008) A Pacifist at War: Military Memoirs of a Conscientious Objector in Palestine 1917–1918 Anastasia Press, Much Hadham ISBN 978-0-9536396-1-8

Visual media

  • Rick Tejada-Flores, Judith Ehrlich (2000), "The good war and those who refused to fight it"; Paradigm Productions in association with the Independent Television Service, aired on PBS.
  • Catherine Ryan, Gary Weimberg (2008), "Soldiers of Conscience"; Luna Productions. Aired on the PBS nonfiction series POV.

External links

Clay v. United States

Clay v. United States, 403 U.S. 698 (1971), was Muhammad Ali's appeal of his conviction in 1967 for refusing to report for induction into the United States military forces during the Vietnam War. His local draft board had rejected his application for conscientious objector classification. In a unanimous 8-0 ruling (Thurgood Marshall recused himself due to his previous involvement in the case as a Justice department official), the United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction that had been upheld by the Fifth Circuit.

The Supreme Court found the government had failed to properly specify why Ali's application had been denied, thereby requiring the conviction to be overturned. A unanimous decision (8–0), "the court said the record shows that [Ali's] beliefs are founded on tenets of the Muslim religion as he understands them."

Conscientious Objector Support Group

The Conscientious Objector Support Group (COSG), a support group to conscientious objectors (COs) in South Africa, was formed in 1978. The organisation grew in the context of South African resistance to war, at the time of Apartheid.

COs at the time included those who openly refused to report to the Military, once conscripted, those who were sometimes referred to as draft dodgers, and in due course those who were doing statutory community service.

Desmond Doss

Desmond Thomas Doss (February 7, 1919 – March 23, 2006) was a United States Army corporal who served as a combat medic with an infantry company in World War II. He was twice awarded the Bronze Star Medal for actions in Guam and the Philippines. Doss further distinguished himself in the Battle of Okinawa by saving 75 men, becoming the only conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor for his actions during the Second World War. His life has been the subject of books, the documentary The Conscientious Objector, and the 2016 film Hacksaw Ridge.

Herbert Leader Hawkins

Herbert Leader Hawkins FRS (1887 – 29 December 1968) was a British geologist. Awarded the Lyell Medal in 1940.

In the First World War he was a conscientious objector, exempted from military service conditional upon continuing his then work.

James Otsuka

Katsuki James Otsuka (January 22, 1921 – May 25, 1984) was a Nisei Japanese American Quaker who was jailed as a conscientious objector during World War II, and later became a war tax resister.

During World War II, Otsuka was interned at the Tule Lake War Relocation Center. Otsuka was classified by the draft board as a conscientious objector subject to "noncombatant service in the armed forces", but he was unwilling to participate in the armed forces in any capacity and argued, unsuccessfully, that he should have been classified as a conscientious objector subject to "civilian work of national importance." Unable to change his classification, and unwilling to serve in the armed forces, he surrendered to the New York District Attorney and pleaded guilty to a violation of the draft law and sentenced to three years in prison.Otsuka testified:

[I]n an extreme emergency such as war does bring, I feel the obligation to assist in any way possible in a civilian program under civilian direction that would help to alleviate human suffering and to promote greater human happiness, I was willing to participate in a civilian program of rehabilitation assisting in wartorn ravaged areas or in a medical research program, but that was never allowed by my draft board.…

As a general rule I obey the law. I feel that it is my duty to violate the law when it involves my conscience, such as a law requiring racial segregation, or commanding me to enter the armed forces and kill human beings. When I refuse to obey the law I do not do so lightly or casually. It takes all of my faith and courage.

Again imprisoned in 1949, this time for not paying $4.50 in taxes as a war protest, he stayed in prison a month longer than his 4-month sentence because he refused to pay his fine.

Two months after his release, on August 5, 1950 (one day before the fifth anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima), he was arrested with two other protesters for passing out leaflets at the Y-12 nuclear weapons facility in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. These leaflets read, in part:

I have come to Oak Ridge... to dramatize to my fellow citizens that our tax money is being used in large part for the destruction of the world. At 10:45 on an August morning in 1945 the first atomic bomb was used for human destruction. I came today to burn, at that hour, 70% of a dollar bill, symbolizing the percentage of taxes that, according to our President, Harry Truman, is being used for military preparation and for fighting the "Cold War."

John Maxton

John Alston Maxton, Baron Maxton (born 5 May 1936) is a Scottish Labour Party politician. From 1979 to 2001 he was a backbencher Member of Parliament (MP) in the House of Commons.

He is a nephew of the former Independent Labour Party leader and World War I conscientious objector, James Maxton. His father, also named John Maxton, was also a conscientious objector in World War I, and the younger John Maxton was himself a conscientious objector 1955-57, working on building sites and in farming. He subsequently attended University College, Oxford.

Mark Wilkerson (conscientious objector)

Army Specialist Mark Wilkerson (born 1984 in Colorado Springs, Colorado, USA) was in Iraq as an American soldier and Iraq War deserter.

Wilkerson enlisted in the US Army in the summer of his junior year of high school, before the September 11 attacks, through a delayed entry program. He served in a military police battalion and was deployed to Iraq. After returning from his first deployment, he came to believe that the American armed forces were not there for the reasons stated. He felt no longer able to serve the military in any aspect. After his first tour in Iraq, Wilkerson had filed for conscientious objector status but was denied. He appealed but would not be heard until returning from a second tour in Iraq what he found unacceptable.

In consequence, Wilkerson did not return to his unit after a two-weeks leave. In 2005, he went absence without leave (AWOL) for 19 months and then, in 2006, turned himself in to his unit. With support of Cindy Sheehan's group, he returned to Fort Hood to face court-martial. Wilkerson was convicted and sentenced to seven months in military prison with a Bad Conduct Discharge for violations of Article 85 (desertion) and an Article 87 (missing movement). He was released from prison July 13, 2007.

Morgan Jones (British politician)

Morgan Jones (3 May 1885 – 23 April 1939) was a Welsh Labour Party politician.

Jones was born in Gelligaer to a collier and a domestic servant, and attended primary schools in Gelligaer and Hengoed before studying at Lewis School, Pengam on a scholarship. He then attended University College, Reading, and became a teacher by profession, serving as president of the Glamorgan Federation of Teachers from 1913 to 1915. He also became a Baptist lay preacher. Jones joined the Independent Labour Party in 1908 and was elected to Gelligaer Urban District Council in 1911, serving as chairman of the council in 1921-22.In the First World War he was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. He was also a member of the No Conscription Fellowship's national committee and chairman of the South Wales Anti-Conscription Council. After the War he was elected to Glamorgan County Council.Morgan Jones was elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Caerphilly at a by-election in 1921, following the death of Labour MP Alfred Onions. He clinched the Labour nomination despite not being the preferred candidate of the South Wales Miners' Federation. He was the first conscientious objector to be elected to Parliament after World War I. Jones held the seat until his own death, aged 53, in 1939, when his successor was fellow conscientious objector Ness Edwards.

He served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education in both the first two Labour Governments, 1924 and 1929-1931.

Jones married Gladys Thomas, also a teacher and ILP member, in 1923. The couple had two daughters.Morgan Jones Park in Caerphilly is named after him.

Robert Martin (anti-war activist)

Robert Martin (born 1949) is an Australian historian who resisted conscription for military service during the Vietnam War.

Martin refused to register for conscription, holding an objection to the Vietnam War in particular. In late 1971 he was sentenced to one week in Adelaide Gaol as a conscientious non-complier with the National Service Act, and in February 1972 he was sentenced to eighteen months for refusing to report at Keswick Barracks. He was released by the Whitlam Duumvirate in December 1972 having served ten months - one of seven men in Australian prisons for refusing conscription freed at that time.

Sankt Radegund

St. Radegund, also Sankt Radegund is a municipality in the district of Braunau am Inn in the Austrian state of Upper Austria, named after Saint Radegund. It is situated at the western rim of the Innviertel region, where the Salzach river forms the border to the German state of Bavaria.

Originally a part of the stem duchy of Bavaria, Sankt Radegund together with the Innviertel fell to the Archduchy of Austria according to the rules of the 1779 Treaty of Teschen. The village is known as the birthplace of World War II conscientious objector Franz Jägerstätter, who was executed at Brandenburg Prison in 1943.

Selective Training and Service Act of 1940

The Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, also known as the Burke–Wadsworth Act, Pub.L. 76–783, 54 Stat. 885, enacted September 16, 1940, was the first peacetime conscription in United States history. This Selective Service Act required that men who had reached their 21st birthday but had not yet reached their 36th birthday register with local draft boards. Later, when the U.S. entered World War II, all men from their 18th birthday until the day before their 45th birthday were made subject to military service, and all men from their 18th birthday until the day before their 65th birthday were required to register.

Simon Townsend

Simon Townsend (born 27 November 1945) is an Australian journalist who became a popular television host during the 1980s. He is now retired.

South African resistance to war

South African resistance to war has a long tradition, and a history that includes conscientious objectors, pacifists, deserters and draft dodgers, as well as those whose objections are based upon the notion of "just war" as opposed to unjust or illegal war.

The Conscientious Objector

The Conscientious Objector is a 2004 documentary film about the life of Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector who received a Medal of Honor for his service in World War Two. His faith, Seventh-day Adventism, did not permit him to carry a weapon. He initially faced opposition, persecution, and ridicule from his fellow soldiers but ultimately won their admiration by demonstrating courage and saving lives as a combat medic.

The Oscar-nominated movie, Hacksaw Ridge, was released in 2016 and is a dramatized account of Doss' life.

Thomas Bennett

Thomas Bennett or Thomas Bennet may refer to:

Thomas A. Bennett (1803–1897), Irish Carmelite priest

Thomas Bennett (architect) (1887–1980), British architect, responsible for much of the development of the Crawley and Stevenage

Thomas Bennett (cricketer) (1866-1942), Australian cricketer

Thomas Bennett (footballer) (1891–?), English footballer

Thomas Bennett (musician), English organist

Thomas Bennett Community College in Crawley, England, named for the architect

Thomas Bennett (Canadian politician) (1835–1908), mayor of Strathcona, Alberta

Thomas W. Bennett (conscientious objector) (1947–1969), U.S. Army medic and the second conscientious objector to win the Medal of Honor

Thomas W. Bennett (territorial governor) (1831–1893), governor of Idaho Territory, 1871–1875

Thomas Bennett Jr. (1781–1865), Governor of South Carolina, 1820–1822

Thomas Bennett (Newfoundland politician) (1788–1872), merchant, magistrate and politician in Newfoundland

Thomas R. Bennett (1830–1901), merchant, magistrate and politician in Newfoundland

Thomas Jewell Bennett (1852–1925), British Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks, 1918–1923

Thomas Westropp Bennett (1867–1962), Irish politician

Thomas Oliver Bennett (1852–1905), rugby union footballer for Wakefield Trinity

Thomas Bennett (MP for Hindon) (1620–1644), English politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1641 to 1644

Thomas Bennett (Lord Mayor) (1543–1627), English merchant who was Lord Mayor of London in 1603

Thomas Boutflower Bennett (1808–1894), early colonist of South Australia

Tom Bennett (footballer) (born 1969), Scottish footballer

Tom Bennett (actor), British actor

Tom Bennett (author), British blogger and author

Thomas M. Bennett, member of the Illinois House of Representatives

Thomas W. Bennett (conscientious objector)

Thomas William Bennett (April 7, 1947 – February 11, 1969) was a U.S. Army medic and the second conscientious objector to receive the Medal of Honor (Desmond Doss, a medic in World War II, was the first). Bennett was killed in action during the Vietnam War and posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

Walter Beach

Walter Beach, III (born January 31, 1933) is a former American football player. As a safety, he played college football at the Central Michigan University, where he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. He also played professionally in the American Football League for the Boston Patriots in 1960 and 1961, and in the National Football League for the Cleveland Browns from 1962 through 1966. He was part of the Cleveland Browns team which won the NFL Championship in 1964.Beach was also part of a group of black athletes who publicly supported Muhammad Ali’s refusal to be inducted into the United States Army, as a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War.Beach is the CEO of Amer-I-Can of New York, a life skills management program founded by his friend and teammate, Jim Brown. In 2014, Beach authored the book, Consider This (ISBN 978-0-9652-0105-6).

William White (conscientious objector)

William "Bill" White was a Sydney school teacher during the Vietnam War. In July 1966, White defied a notice to report for duty at an army induction centre. White was the first Australian to be a public conscientious objector to the Vietnam War. Both this initial application for total exemption and subsequent appeals were rejected. White was removed from his classroom and ordered to report to Army quarters at Watsons Bay. He refused to comply and waited at home for the authorities to make the next move.

This standoff lasted for several days and gained wide press coverage causing considerable embarrassment for the Australian Government. The standoff ended when White was dragged from his home after refusing to comply with an order to enter the army. A photo of this event became a potent symbol of the nature of conscription. The famous image of Bill being dragged off by three policemen was taken by John Fairfax 1966.

He was jailed just before the 1966 election, and continued to seek conscientious objector status until he eventually succeeded on 23 December 1966.White's main objection was that he felt he was being asked to kill other human beings. However, he also had objections to the war itself and conscription.

İnan Süver

İnan Süver is a Turkish conscientious objector who served a prison term for desertion from the Turkish Armed Forces.

Süver was drafted by the Turkish Armed Forces in 2001. He served for thirteen months before deserting, apparently on a release with an order to return to his unit. Though Süver stated that he was unaware of the principle of conscientious objection at the time of his desertion, he declared himself a conscientious objector in a letter to the military in 2009. In May 2010, he told a reporter, "widespread knowledge about conscientious objection would be the end of the war":

On 5 August 2010, Süver was arrested in his home on an outstanding warrant for desertion. He was then taken to military prison in Istanbul. On 24 August, the Aegean Armed Forces Command Court found Süver guilty of "infringement of leave". He had three previous convictions for desertion.On 8 October, Süver was transferred to Buca prison in İzmir, where he was repeatedly hospitalized as a result of his health deteriorating from hunger strikes. On 5 April 2011, he was transferred to Manisa Saruhanlı semi-open prison, which he escaped sixteen days later. He was re-arrested the following day at the home of a friend, and returned to Buca prison.In 2010, Amnesty International and War Resisters' International issued calls for Süver's release, with War Resisters' International adding their fears that he would face torture or other ill-treatment during his imprisonment. Amnesty International also named him a prisoner of conscience. When the band U2 visited Turkey in September 2010, Bono called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to investigate Süver's treatment, and reported that Erdoğan agreed to "look into it."Süver was conditionally released from Balıkesir prison on 9 December 2011. In September 2012 he was re-arrested in Istanbul and given a five-month prison sentence for his April 2011 escape. He was released on 12 October, as his previous pre-trial detention also counted toward the sentence.İnan Süver has a wife, Remziye Süver.

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