A conscientious objector is a person who, because of his or her religious, moral, and/or ethical beliefs, believes that participation in warfare of any kind is wrong. A military member may apply for discharge as a conscientious objector after his or her beliefs developed and/or became "fixed and firm" after joining the military. (A person who held conscientious objector beliefs before entering the military is ineligible for discharge, unless he or she can show the beliefs became "fixed and firm" after enlisting or commissioning.) It does not matter how long a member has been in the military, and it is not necessary that a member be religious in order to qualify for discharge as a conscientious objector. The Supreme Court long ago decided that atheists and followers of non-traditional religions may qualify for discharge as a conscientious objectors provided all the criteria are met.
Some members begin to feel uneasy about their military service after joining the military. Some undergo religious conversions. Others, because of their education, family background, and personal experiences after entering the military (such as deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan), begin to question their participation in the military. A member becomes eligible for discharge once his or her opposition to warfare "crystallizes," in other words, becomes "fixed and firm." Other criteria for discharge require that the member's beliefs are deeply and sincerely held.
To be considered for discharge as a conscientious objector, a member must submit a detailed application along with supporting evidence. Normally, a member who submits an application prior to mobilization or reassignment will be required to report as ordered. His or her application will be processed at the new duty station (which may include Iraq and Afghanistan). An investigating officer is assigned to the case, who conducts an informal hearing with the applicant to determine if the member meets the discharge criteria. The applicant also is required to be evaluated by a psychiatrist and interviewed by a chaplain.
Where appropriate, a member may seek judicial review of the military's decision to deny an application for discharge based on conscientious objection. The process of applying for discharge as a conscientious objector is challenging, and a member considering making an application is well advised to obtain qualified legal advice. There are many pitfalls to be avoided in the application, hearing, and, where required, appeal processes. David Sheldon will assist you in pursuing your discharge as a result of your beliefs.