What is conscientious objector status?

People in Washington, D.C. who do not believe they can serve in combat roles in the military may be able to apply for status as a conscientious objector.

War and other military activities have been a part of society long before the United States was ever founded. Over the years, there have been times when war was all but celebrated and the people who fought in combat were lauded as national heroes.

Today, many people in Washington, D.C. and around the country still view such service as honorable and they revere those who put themselves in these positions. They may even seek out the ability to participate in military service. Others, however, are not able to ever consider this path as their personal beliefs are incongruent with such actions.

People who do not feel capable of participating in war may be able to avoid such duty by registering for status as conscientious objectors.

Basic definitions and elements of conscientious objector status

According to the Center on Conscience and War, there are several key elements to the definition of a conscientious objector. One of these is that the focus is on active participation in war, not so much beliefs about war. A person may or may not object to war itself, but they do not believe they could ever actively participate in it. The same person may feel capable of defending themselves in other situations but not in warfare.

Conscientious objector applications in recent decades

During the Vietnam war era, ABC News indicates that as many as 171,000 people registered as conscientious objectors. By 2015, that number had dropped to roughly 100 annually, although it was believed that such applications were on the rise.

Applying for conscientious objector status is not only a means of avoiding participation in war but may also be an avenue to receiving a military discharge without court martial proceedings.

Conscientious objector application process

Any person who wishes to be identified as a conscientious objector but register with the Selective Service System. This registration process puts the burden on the registrant to prove that they truly are a conscientious objector.

During the application, they should expect to provide as many details as possible about the beliefs they hold or the lifestyle they live that have led them to being unable to serve in a combat role. These details might even include creeds or other manifestos associated with a religious group. Moral or ethical beliefs and practices that are not necessarily religiously based may also qualify a person for status as a conscientious objector.

Requests for this status may be denied and those denials may then be appealed first to a district board and then to a national board. Anyone in Washington, D.C. who wishes to seek status as a conscientious objector should contact an attorney for assistance through the process.