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Can an atheist be a Conscientious Objector?

The short answer is yes.

Religious beliefs, in the view of the government, are not necessarily a belief in any one faith or even in God. So while an atheist may not believe that there is a god, he or she may feel killing another human is ethically and morally wrong

In regards to military service, our government has made provisions for conscientious objectors and states: “While many Americans may view military service as an obligation of citizenship, the U.S. Congress recognized early that certain individuals should be exempted from service if they hold convictions against war in any form.”

It wasn’t until 1965 however that the Supreme Court ruled that conscientious objectors did not have to believe in a god or Supreme Being. In 1970 this ruling was expanded to include any individual who objected to military service on ethical and moral grounds, and included the language that this feeling must be “deeply felt."

The amended Universal Military Training and Service Act clearly states that no person who is opposed to participating due to religious training and belief will be forced to do so. Being opposed to participating is defined by the Department of Defense as “firm, fixed and sincere objection in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and belief.”

Historically, according to the National Peace Museum, the Mennonite, Amish, Quaker and Jehovah’s Witness groups as well as others have been recognized as those who qualify as conscientious objectors.

Being a conscientious objector does not necessarily mean a person cannot serve in the military. The Department of Defense has created two categories for services members whose convictions prohibit them from combat or war. One allows for complete withdrawal from service and another that allows for the service member to perform non-combat duties.

If you or someone you love is struggling with filing for conscientious objector status it may be in your best interest to consult an experienced military attorney to illuminate the options and best protect your rights.

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