Who is a Military Conscientious Objector?
Current military policy has defined conscientious objection as the following: “A firm, fixed, and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms, by reason of religious training and/or belief.” (DOD 1300.06) This definition has been further clarified by both military policy and our legal system. The following words or phrases found in the above definition are further elucidated:
- The term “religious” also includes moral and ethical beliefs which have the same force in a person’s life as traditional religious beliefs.
- The term “religious” does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views.
- “Training and/or belief”
- “Training” refers to the source of conviction or, more simply, the experiences that shaped your values. This may come from a lifetime of involvement in an organized religion that teaches active love for the enemy for example (i.e. not killing) or from books, movies, or TV shows. It could also arise from experiences serving in the military or from other life experiences. “Belief” refers to the values you hold which do not allow you to participate in military service or the bearing of arms.
- This term highlights the personal nature of the claim. Thus a CO claim is not an abstract critique of war. It is a statement of what you believe, and what you can or cannot do in good conscience, not whether you think war is illogical or bad policy, for example.
- “In War”
- The term “In War” means that although a CO must object to war, he or she does not have to object to the use of violence by a police force or for self-defense, although many COs do hold nonviolent convictions. Additionally, it is important to note the difference between force and violence. Punching someone is an example of violent force, while pulling a child away from a moving car is an example of nonviolent force.
- “In Any Form”
- This term precludes those who are opposed to a particular war (who would be called "selective conscientious objectors"). If one believes in “Just War Theory”, held by many religious traditions, they would have to conclude that there are no just wars to be a conscientious objector under the current legal definition.
Should I apply for conscientious objector status?
If you believe you might fall within the definition above, study the regulations linked below. Take notes on them and highlight key parts. The Center on Conscience & War has supported conscientious objectors for 70 years and has experienced staff that can support you through the conscientious objection application process.
Bill Galvin has extensive counseling experience beginning in the early 1970s during the Vietnam era. He is the author of the most recent version of the Draft Counselor's Manual and the Guide for COs in the Military.
All counselors are trained in the military policy and process for Conscientious Objection.
Contact CCW if you want to seek discharge or reassignment as a CO. If you face deployment soon, do not wait! Call CCW at:
DOD Instruction on Conscientious Objection
Army Regulation on Conscientious Objection
Marine Corps Order on Conscientious Objection
Navy Manual on Conscientious Objection
Air Force Instruction on Conscientious Objection
Coast Guard Instruction on Conscientious Objection