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JULY 1994

Article 18 - Freedom of Thought, Conscience, and 

Early immigrants to the United States came to the 
New World to practice their respective religions 
free from governmental persecution.  Freedom of 
religion, and the related freedoms of thought and 
conscience, are consequently among the most 
fundamental and carefully guarded building blocks of 
American judicial and political theory.  

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 
includes a guarantee that "Congress shall make no 
law respecting an establishment of religion, or 
prohibiting the free exercise thereof."  The First 
Amendment is made applicable to state and local 
governments by the Fourteenth Amendment to the 
Constitution.  Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 
(1940). As discussed below, U.S. law takes a broad 
view of what constitutes "religion" for purposes of 
these protections.  The right to freedom of 
"thought" and "conscience" is thus in many 
circumstances subsumed within freedom of "religion."  
To the extent it is not, the right to freedom of 
thought and conscience is protected by the First 
Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and 
opinion, as discussed under Article 19.

Federal, state and local laws and practices may be 
challenged in the federal courts as violating either 
the Establishment Clause or the Free Exercise Clause 
of the First Amendment.  In consequence, 
governmental approval may not be required for 
religious activities and practices, and the scope of 
governmental regulation is extremely limited.  The 
separation of church and state has also been 
preserved by the judicial doctrine that, when there 
is a dispute within a religious order or 
organization, courts will not inquire into religious 
doctrine, but will defer to the decision-making body 
recognized by the church and give effect to whatever 
decision is officially and properly made.  For 
example, in Kedroff v. St. Nicholas Cathedral, 344 
U.S. 94 (1952), the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a 
state statute that purported to "recognize" the 
autonomy of North American branches of the Russian 
Orthodox from the "mother" church. Disputes over 
church property, the Court held, must respect the 
church's own structure (hierarchical, 
congregational, etc.).

Free Exercise.  People in the United States have 
broad freedom to practice their religions.  
Government restrictions on the exercise of religion 
have been permitted only to the extent that those 
restrictions are embodied in neutral laws designed 
to protect public health and welfare, or where 
religious practices otherwise pose a substantial 
threat to public safety.  

The earliest Free Exercise cases upheld various 
attempts to restrict the Mormons' practice of 
polygamy.  See, e.g., Reynolds v. United States, 98 
U.S. 145 (1879) (prosecution for bigamy); Murphy v. 
Ramsey, 114 U.S. 15 (1885) (federal statute barring 
polygamists from voting or serving on juries); Davis 
v. Beason, 133 U.S. 333 (1890) (territorial 
legislation requiring prospective voter to swear not 
a polygamist and not a member of any organization 
encouraging or practicing polygamy); The Late 
Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-
Day Saints v. United States, 136 U.S. 1 (1890) 
(revocation of charter of Mormon Church and 
confiscation of church property).  See also 
Cleveland v. United States, 329 U.S. 14 (1946) 
(transporting a plural wife across state lines 
violates Mann Act).  

In a later case, Amish parents challenged a law 
requiring compulsory education to age 16, arguing 
that their children were being exposed to worldly 
influences contrary to Amish beliefs and way of 
life.  Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).  The 
Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Amish, allowing 
them to take their children out of school a few 
years early.  The Court found that the law of 
compulsory education significantly interfered with 
the children's religious development in violation of 
the Free Exercise Clause.  The state's interest in 
educating its citizenry was not found to be so 
compelling as to override the interests of the 
Amish, and cutting short their education by a few 
years was not seen to cause harm to either the 
children or society in general.  The Court described 
prior case law as establishing "a charter of the 
rights of parents to direct the religious upbringing 
of their children."  Id. at 233.  

The Court has also ruled that unemployment 
compensation may not be denied to a beneficiary who 
is unwilling to accept employment that would require 
working on his or her Sabbath.  Sherbert v. Verner, 
374 U.S. 398 (1963); Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals 
Commission of Florida, 480 U.S. 136 (1987).  
Further, the beneficiary may not be denied benefits 
where his or her belief is a sincere religious one, 
but not based on the tenets or dogma of an 
established religious sect.  Frazee v. Illinois 
Department of Employment, 489 U.S. 829 (1989).  
Recently, the Court struck down a local ordinance 
punishing animal cruelty, including animal sacrifice 
not intended primarily for food consumption, on the 
grounds that the ordinance had both the purpose and 
effect of restricting religious conduct, and did not 
reach other conduct producing the same type of harm.  
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of 
Hialeah, 113 S.Ct. 2217 (1993).

The Sherbert and Yoder cases, supra, suggest that a 
law which substantially burdens the exercise of 
religion will be subjected to strict judicial 
scrutiny and will be upheld only if it is neutral, 
it furthers a compelling state interest and is the 
least burdensome means of furthering that interest.  
In another line of cases, however, the Court has 
upheld certain neutral laws of general applicability 
without applying strict scrutiny.  For example, the 
Court upheld the validity of compulsory vaccination 
laws despite religious proscriptions against medical 
care.  Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11 
(1905).  The Court has also ruled that the Free 
Exercise Clause does not mandate an exemption from 
Sunday closing laws for Orthodox Jewish merchants 
who observe Saturday as the Sabbath and are 
therefore required to be closed two days of the week 
rather than one, Braunfield v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599 
(1961).  Indeed, the Court has ruled that a state 
statute providing Sabbath observers with an absolute 
and unqualified right not to work on the Sabbath, 
taking no account of the needs of the employer or of 
nonobservant employees, violates the Establishment 
Clause. Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc., 472 U.S. 
703 (1985).  Further, the Court has upheld the 
application of federal tax laws to an Amish farmer 
who refused to pay on religious grounds.  United 
States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982).  Most recently, 
the Court has reexamined the level of scrutiny to be 
applied in certain Free Exercise cases.  In 
Employment Division, Department of Human Resources 
of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), the Court 
explicitly held that neutral laws of general 
applicability are not subject to strict judicial 
scrutiny and found that state drug laws may be 
applied to bar the sacramental ingestion of 
controlled substances such as peyote.

Reacting adversely to the Smith decision, the U.S. 
Congress enacted the Religious Freedom Restoration 
Act of 1993 (Pub. L. No. 103-141, 107 Stat. 1488).  
The stated purpose of the Act was to restore the 
compelling interest test as set forth in Verner and 
Yoder, supra.  The Act provides that the Government 
shall not substantially burden a person's exercise 
of religion, even if the burden results from a rule 
of general applicability, unless the Government 
demonstrates that the burden furthers a compelling 
governmental interest and is the least restrictive 
means of furthering that interest.  It remains to be 
seen precisely what effect the statute will have on 
free exercise cases, but it is already being invoked 
in a number of prisoners' rights cases.  See, e.g., 
Lawson v. Dugger, 844 F. Supp. 1538 (S.D. Fla. 
1994); Allah v. Menei, 844 F. Supp. 1056 (E.D. Pa. 

The Supreme Court has for the most part avoided 
addressing the delicate question of what constitutes 
a religious belief or practice.  However, the Court 
has noted that "the very concept of ordered liberty 
precludes allowing every person to make his own 
standards on matters of conduct in which society as 
a whole has an important interest."  Wisconsin v. 
Yoder, supra, at 215-16.  The Court has speculated 
that some beliefs may be "so bizarre, so clearly 
nonreligious in motivation, as not to be entitled to 
protection under the free exercise clause."  Thomas 
v. Review Board, Indiana Employment Security Div., 
450 U.S. 707, 715 (1981).  In identifying such 
"nonreligious" beliefs, the Court has focused on the 
credibility and sincerity of an individual's 
beliefs, rather than on the orthodoxy or popularity 
of a particular faith.  Thus, the Court has held 
that a state could not make membership in an 
organized church, sect, or denomination a 
prerequisite for claiming a religious exemption to 
an unemployment insurance statute requirement that 
claimants be able to work on all days of the week.  
Frazee v. Illinois Dept. of Employment Security, 489 
U.S. 829 (1989).

Charitable Status for Taxation and Solicitation.  A 
further government accommodation of the free 
exercise of religion is through the tax code.  A 
religious organization can qualify for exemption 
from federal income tax and be eligible to receive 
tax-deductible contributions if it meets the 
requirements under the Internal Revenue Code, 26 
U.S.C.   501(c)(3) and 26 U.S.C.   170.  Failure to 
meet the Code requirements does not affect an 
organization's legal right to operate.  Rather, it 
merely means it is subject to income tax on its net 
income and that donors may not claim charitable tax 
deductions for the value of gifts to the 

Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code 
provides that an organization will qualify for 
exemption from federal income tax if it is organized 
and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, 
or educational purposes, if no part of its net 
earnings inures to the benefit of any private 
shareholder or individual, if no substantial part of 
its activities is carrying on propaganda, or 
otherwise attempting to influence legislation, and, 
if it does not participate in, or intervene in 
(including the publishing or distributing of 
statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or 
in opposition to) any candidate for public office.  
The prohibition on the inurement of earnings to 
private individuals is intended to ensure that an 
exempt organization serves the public good, and to 
prevent it from conferring financial benefits (other 
than reasonable compensation) on persons with a 
personal or private interest in its activities.  
Inurement can take many forms, including the payment 
of dividends or unreasonable compensation.  The 
issue of inurement most often arises in religious 
organizations where the entity is controlled by one 
person or a very small group of persons.  Similar 
requirements are contained in   170(c)(2) concerning 
eligibility to receive deductible contributions.

The Internal Revenue Code does not define the term 
"religious" for purposes of   501(c)(3).  Internal 
Revenue Service determinations concerning the tax- 
exempt status of religious organizations do not 
involve judgment of the merits of a claimed 
religious belief.  Rather, the Service looks to 
whether the asserted religious beliefs of the 
organization are truly and sincerely held, and 
whether the practices and rituals (as opposed to 
beliefs) associated with the organization's 
religious belief or creed are not illegal or 
contrary to clearly defined public policy.  A 
religious organization may also serve other exempt 
purposes under   501(c)(3).  For example, it may 
also be charitable or educational.  These could 
serve as independent bases for qualification for 
exemption, assuming the organization satisfies the 
other requirements of   501(c)(3).

State tax laws also exempt religious and charitable 
organizations from state income taxes.  In addition, 
though the states vary in the degree to which they 
regulate charitable organizations, state laws 
governing charitable organizations generally exempt 
religious organizations from whatever requirements 
they do impose.  

Religious organizations are also generally exempt 
from state laws regulating charitable solicitations 
by charitable organizations.  For example, both 
Executive Law   172-a, Book 18, McKinney's 
Consolidated Laws of New York, and   45:17A-5(a) of 
New Jersey Revised Statutes, which concern the 
solicitation and collection of funds for charitable 
purposes, specifically exclude religious 
corporations and other religious agencies and 
organizations, and charities, agencies, and 
organizations operated, supervised, or controlled by 
or in connection with a religious organization.  
When a state does attempt to regulate the activities 
of a religious organization, it must not do so in a 
manner that violates the rights guaranteed by the 
First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  A 
Minnesota statute that limited exemption from 
registration only to those religious organizations 
that received more than half their support from 
members was found by the Supreme Court to violate 
the First Amendment in Larson v. Valente, 456 U.S. 
228 (1982). The Court concluded the law had the 
effect of preferring some religions over others, 
thus violating the Establishment Clause.

Remedies.  As discussed under Article 2, federal 
statutes make it a crime for a person acting under 
color of law to deprive another person of any right 
protected by the Constitution or laws of the United 
States.  18 U.S.C.   242.  A parallel civil statute, 
42 U.S.C.   1983, authorizes a civil action by the 
victim to recover damages.  It is also a crime for 
two or more persons to conspire to injure or 
intimidate another person in the free exercise of 
any such right, or because that person has exercised 
such a right, 18 U.S.C.   241; and for any person, 
under color of law, by force or threat of force, to 
injure, intimidate or interfere with another person 
because of that person's race, color, national 
origin or religion, because that person is attending 
public school, applying for employment, or engaged 
in other such protected activities. 18 U.S.C.   245.  

In addition to these criminal civil rights 
provisions, a recently enacted federal statute 
explicitly makes it a crime for a person 
intentionally to deface, damage, or destroy any 
religious real property because of its religious 
character, or intentionally to obstruct, by force or 
threat of force, another person's free exercise of 
religious beliefs.  18 U.S.C.   247.

Federal civil rights statutes prohibit 
discrimination on the basis of religion (along with 
such other factors as race, sex, and national 
origin).  For example, Title VII of the Civil Rights 
Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C.    2000e et seq., bars 
discriminatory employment practices.  However, an 
exception is made for religious institutions to 
allow them to employ people of a particular 
religious background if their work is related to the 
employer's religious activities.  Title VII also 
requires an employer to make "reasonable 
accommodation" of an employee's religious practices 
if it is possible to do so without imposing undue 
hardship on the conduct of business.  42 U.S.C.   
2000e(j).  The case law on what constitutes a 
reasonable accommodation resembles the case law 
regarding the free exercise of religion.  

Establishment.  The Establishment Clause of the 
First Amendment promotes religious freedom by 
limiting the influence of federal and state 
governments on religious thought and practice.  The 
U.S. Supreme Court has often described its method of 
assessing whether a government practice violates the 
Establishment Clause as follows: the statute must 
have a secular nonreligious purpose, its principal 
or primary effect must be one that neither advances 
nor inhibits religion, and the statute must not 
foster an excessive government entanglement with 
religion.  Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971).  
The appropriateness of this precise standard, and 
the nuances of its application, are often subject to 
dispute.  But there is common agreement that the 
Clause clearly forbids either a state or the federal 
government from setting up a church.  As the U.S. 
Supreme Court has clearly stated:

     Neither [federal nor state governments] can 
pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, 
or prefer one religion over another.  Neither can 
force or influence a person to go to or to remain 
away from church against this will or force him to 
profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.  No 
person can be punished for entertaining or 
professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for 
church attendance or nonattendance.  No tax in any 
amount, large or small, can be levied to support any 
religious activities or institutions, whatever they 
may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to 
teach or practice religion.  Neither a state nor the 
Federal Government can, openly or secretly, 
participate in the affairs of any religious 
organizations or groups and vice versa.

Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 15-16 

The recurring areas of controversy involving 
application of the Establishment Clause fall into 
three general areas.  The first involves public aid 
to religion, such as the indirect provision of 
government benefits to private parochial schools.  
Such issues involve reconciling the interest of 
government in permitting parents and legal guardians 
"to ensure the religious and moral education of 
their children in conformity with their own 
convictions" by permitting the provision of benefits 
to such education in a like manner as to secular 
education, while avoiding government entanglement 
with such practices.  In a recent case, Zobrest v. 
Catalina Foothills School Dist., 113 S.Ct. 2462 
(1993), the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that the 
Establishment Clause does not prevent religious 
institutions from participating in government 
programs that neutrally provide benefits to a broad 
class of citizens, such as tax deductions for 
educational expenses or vocational assistance 
programs, and upheld the provision of government-
paid interpreters to deaf children attending 
sectarian as well as public schools.  The Court 
distinguished the direct provision of aid to 
religious schools from aid to handicapped children 
attending those schools, as well as public 
involvement with other personnel -- such as teachers 
or guidance counselors -- who might have a more 
profound role in the education of the children.  
Most recently, the Court struck down a New York 
statute carving out a special education school 
district for Orthodox Jewish children on the grounds 
that the statute impermissibly advanced religion.  
Board of Education of Kyras Joel Village School 
District v. Grumet, 62 U.S.L.W. 4665 (June 27, 

A second category of cases involves the recognition 
and practice of religion in public schools, in 
particular the question of school prayer.  These 
cases ultimately involve the degree to which the 
government will foster or permit religious practices 
in public institutions.  The courts have been 
particularly careful to protect schoolchildren from 
any coercive exposure to religious exercises.  For 
example, in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), a 
school board had adopted a directive which required 
a specific prayer to be said aloud in each classroom 
at the start of every school day.  The Court 
declared the directive unconstitutional even though 
the prayer was denominationally neutral and even 
though children could be excused from participating.  
The Court noted that the Establishment Clause does 
not merely forbid direct government compulsion, but 
also extends to prohibit any law establishing or 
respecting an official religion, regardless of 
whether nonobserving individuals are directly 
coerced.  The Court noted that there is substantial 
indirect coercive pressure where the power, 
prestige, and financial support of the government is 
placed behind a particular religious belief.

The Court recently reaffirmed this principle in Lee 
v. Weisman, 112 S.Ct. 2649 (1992).  When a public 
middle school arranged to have members of the clergy 
read an invocation and benediction at their 
graduation ceremonies, the Court held the 
Establishment Clause was violated because even 
nonsectarian invocations and benedictions in public 
school graduations create an identification of 
governmental power with religious practice, thereby 
endorsing religion.  The Court focused on the 
element of coercion, particularly "for the dissenter 
of high school age, who has a reasonable perception 
that she is being forced by the state to pray in a 
manner her conscience will not allow."

This is not to say that parents may not choose to 
provide religious education for their children as 
part of a school curriculum.  The tens of thousands 
of privately owned and operated religious schools 
around the country are free to mingle religion and 
education as much as they wish.  Religious 
institutions are also free to provide religious 
education separately from a regular school 
curriculum, and parents are of course free to 
provide religious education of their choice through 
religious schools, separate religious education 
programs, or at home.  It is toward public schools, 
operated with public funds, that the Establishment 
Clause is directed.  Public schools may teach 
religion for its historical or literary qualities, 
but may never preach it as such.

One of the most difficult issues to face the Supreme 
Court, almost every term, is the issue of 
governmental financial assistance that may inure to 
the benefit of religious schools.  At one time, it 
was possible to discern a test that permitted aid 
"to the students" but not to schools.  For example, 
the Court allowed governments to provide free 
transportation and free loans of textbooks for 
parochial school students.  Everson, supra 
(transportation); Board of Education v. Allen, 392 
U.S. 236 (1968) (textbooks).  This distinction broke 
down, however, as it became apparent that all 
assistance to children attending parochial schools 
relieved the schools themselves of some expenses, or 
took a burden off parents and thereby encouraged 
them to send their children to parochial schools.  
Thus, the "student benefit" test eventually yielded 
to the "Lemon test" outlined above: aid must have a 
primarily secular purpose and effect, and not 
require excessive government "entanglement" to 

Programs providing direct financial assistance to 
church-connected schools have generally been struck 
down on the ground that excessive government 
entanglement would be required to ensure that the 
state aid was not used to inculcate religion.  Among 
the programs struck down have been (1) a program of 
direct money grants for maintenance of school 
facilities and equipment, Committee for Public 
Education and Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 
756 (1973); and (2) a program for lending 
instructional materials and equipment (e.g., slide 
projectors, tape recorders) to religious schools; 
providing auxiliary services (e.g., remedial and 
accelerated instruction, diagnostic services, 
guidance counseling, testing) by public employees on 
religious school premises, Meek v. Pittenger, 421 
U.S. 349 (1975).  The U.S. Supreme Court has, 
however, upheld (1) a program in which state 
supplied standardized tests and scoring services, 
provided diagnostic services by public employees on 
the premises, and provided guidance and remedial 
services off premises, Wolman v. Walter, 433 U.S. 
229 (1977); (2) provision of free transportation to 
parochial school students, Everson, supra; (3) loan 
of public school textbooks to parochial schools, 
Allen, supra.  Most recently, the Court held that 
providing a sign language interpreter to a deaf 
child in Catholic high school does not violate the 
Establishment Clause.  Zobrest v. Catalina Foothills 
School District, 113 S.Ct. 2462 (1993).  

More lenient standards have been applied where the 
governmental assistance goes to an institution of 
higher education.  See, e.g., Tilton v. Richardson, 
403 U.S. 672 (1971), in which the Court theorized 
that it is possible, with respect to an institution 
of higher learning, to assist the secular facet of 
the school without appearing to endorse its 
religious mission. 

More than once in this century, the issue has arisen 
whether states can prohibit the teaching of 
evolution, or require that Biblical "Creationism" be 
included in public school texts.  The Court struck 
down a state statute which made it unlawful for any 
teacher in any state-supported educational 
institution to teach the theory of evolution or to 
use a textbook that teaches this theory, since the 
statute's sole purpose was a religious one, i.e., to 
suppress a particular theory because of its supposed 
conflict with the Bible.  Epperson v. Arkansas, 393 
U.S. 97 (1968).  Similarly, the Court recently 
struck down a state statute prohibiting public 
schools from teaching evolution-science unless 
creation-science was also taught. Edwards v. 
Aguillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987).

A third general category of controversial cases 
involves more general public endorsement of 
religion.  One particular area of conflict involves 
the display of nativity scenes on government 
property during the Christmas season.  For example, 
in County of Allegheny v. American Civil Liberties 
Union Greater Pittsburgh Chapter, 492 U.S. 573 
(1989), a county was sued over two different 
displays.  The first was outside in a public park, 
and contained a Christmas tree, a Hanukkah menorah, 
and a sign saluting "liberty".  The Court found no 
violation of the Establishment Clause, as the tree 
is a secular symbol of Christmas, there were symbols 
of different faiths, and the sign referring to 
liberty showed no favoritism or hostility toward any 
one faith.  The second display, on the other hand, 
contained a creche, unaccompanied by nonreligious 
Christmas elements, in the main part of the county 
courthouse during the Christmas season.  A sign hung 
over it, proclaiming "Gloria in Excelsis Deo!"  
Furthermore, the courthouse had a very grand 
staircase where the creche was set up, and the 
county further associated itself with the display by 
means of press releases and by placing decorations 
similar to those in the display next to the official 
county signs in the courthouse.  The Court held that 
the creche violated the Establishment Clause, 
because the grandeur of the setting might be fairly 
understood to express views that received the 
support and endorsement of the government.  The 
display was found to endorse a patently Christian 
message, and the Court declared that the government 
may not celebrate Christmas as a religious holiday, 
because such a celebration would mean that the 
government is declaring Jesus to be the Messiah, a 
specifically Christian belief, and such a 
proclamation would contradict the logic of secular 
liberty which it is the purpose of the Establishment 
Clause to protect.

Freedom of Conscience and Compulsory Military 
Service.  At the current time, U.S. law does not 
provide for conscription into the Armed Forces.  All 
service in the Armed Forces is voluntary.  Congress 
is actively considering eliminating even the current 
requirement that individuals register with the 
government for purposes of conscription, which is 
known as the Selective Service System.  In times of 
national emergency, U.S. law does provide for the 
possibility of conscription.  But in relatively 
recent emergencies, such as the Persian Gulf War, 
conscription was neither used nor even seriously 
considered.  U.S. law does not provide for the 
conscription of women.

If it becomes necessary to use conscription to fill 
the ranks, applicable U.S. law (i.e., the Selective 
Service Act, codified at 50 U.S.C. App.   456(j)) 
provides for full consideration of conscientious 
objector claims.  Under this law, personnel who 
claim, by reason of religious training or belief, 
conscientious objection to either: (1) participation 
in armed combat, or (2) war in any form, are upon 
review and confirmation by the local Selective 
Service Board, designated as noncombatants, or if 
opposed to participation in noncombatant service, 
assigned to civilian national service.  The period 
of such national service would be the same as the 
initial service required if the individual were 
conscripted.  There are no political or social 
penalties consequent upon conscientious objector 
status.  U.S. law specifies that the term "religious 
training or belief" does not include political, 
sociological, or philosophic views, or merely a 
personal moral code. 

Under implementing regulations, 32 C.F.R.    1648.1-
7, conscientious objector claims may be heard at or 
before induction by a local draft board.  Claimants 
are entitled to notice and an opportunity to be 
heard before a board.  Claimants may appear in 
person at the hearing and may be accompanied by an 
advisor of their choice.  Claimants may present 
evidence and witnesses, discuss the pending 
conscription classification, direct attention to any 
information in the file considered material or 
relevant, and present such further information as he 
may believe will assist the board in evaluating his 
claim.  The claimant may summarize in writing such 
oral information as he presented, and the summary 
must be included in the file.  Proceedings of the 
board are open if the claimant so requests.  The 
task of the board is to determine the honesty and 
sincerity with which the individual holds the 
belief.  This is done on a case-by-case basis.  The 
belief need not be "religious," in the orthodox 
sense, nor is membership in a particular church 
required.  Denial of conscientious objector status 
may be appealed, first to the district Selective 
Service Board, and ultimately to the federal court 

Generally, the same rules apply to persons who, 
while serving in the Armed Forces, develop beliefs 
inconsistent with continued service.  According to 
applicable regulations, a member wishing to claim 
conscientious objector status may make application 
to his or her commander for either administrative 
discharge or change to noncombatant status.  See 
Department of Defense Directive 1300.6 (August 20, 
1971) as amended, and implementing regulations.  As 
a matter of policy, an effort is made to assign such 
personnel to administrative or other duties posing 
the minimal practical conflict with the professed 
beliefs pending action on their claims.

Claimants are entitled to notice and a hearing 
before an impartial hearing officer who is charged 
with determining the sincerity and honesty with 
which the stated beliefs are held, and producing a 
report with findings and recommendations.  The 
cognizant commander may not deny the application, 
but must review, comment upon, and forward it to the 
Secretary concerned, through the chain of command.  
Authority to approve, but not to deny, such 
applications may be delegated to the officer 
exercising general court-martial jurisdiction over 
the applicant.  Hearings are informal in nature and 
not conducted in strict compliance with the rules of 
evidence.  Claimants are generally afforded the same 
procedural rights as are provided to pre-induction 
claimants.  Substantive standards are also the same.  
There is, for example, no requirement that a belief 
be associated with a particular church, or even that 
a belief be consistent with the dogma of an 
established church.  Honest disagreement with the 
theology of one's chosen church is not a bar to 
conscientious objector status.  Depending on the 
nature of the objection, an individual found to be a 
conscientious objector will either be honorably 
discharged or designated as a noncombatant.  

Denial of the claim may be administratively or 
judicially appealed.  For example, a member may 
petition the cognizant Service Secretary for 
correction of the member's records through the 
applicable Boards for Correction of Naval or 
Military Records.  Alternatively, or subsequently, a 
member may appeal to the cognizant federal district 

A person discharged as a conscientious objector 
forfeits most, but not all, benefits administered by 
the Veterans Administration.  The individual is 
advised of this fact prior to making application and 
signs a document signifying his or her 
understanding.  There are no other political effects 
or changes in civil status consequent upon 
declaration of conscientious beliefs.  A person 
designated as a noncombatant does not lose veterans 
benefits but may, in the discretion of the Military 
Department concerned, be denied an opportunity to 
re-enlist at the end of the current enlistment.  
Again, there are no political effects or civil 
status changes consequent upon noncombatant 
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