A conscientious objector (CO) is an "individual [who has] claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion. Information for enlisted personnel that are interested in seeking CO status to resist active engagement in military action and/or to seek permission to be released from military service contracts.
Everyone has a conscience. Few people wrestle with their conscience as much as members of the military, especially those in combat. Counselors with the GI Rights Hotline talk with military personnel every day who are questioning the morality of the orders they have received or jobs they are expected to perform.
If you are one of those people, you came to the right place. You should know that you are not alone. In fact, every year hundreds of military personnel apply for conscientious objector status. Conscientious objectors have been with us as long as there have been wars.
After you read this fact sheet, please call the Hotline (877-447-4487) to talk over your options with a counselor
Primary sources for research.
This Outline was prepared for a workshop presented in April 2008 by MLTF attorneys Peter Goldberger (Ardmore, PA) and Stephen Collier (San Francisco, CA) for hotline counselors of the GI Rights Network. It attempts to cover the basics of a claim for discharge as a Conscientious Objector (or for reassignment to non-combatant duty as a I-AO objector), including the nature of a qualifying religious or moral objection to participating in war in all forms, how to develop a claim for objection based on non-traditional moral and ethical beliefs, and developing a strong record. The goal of the soldier/ sailor/Marine/airman and counselor is to develop a claim that is not only most likely to be approved within the military process, but also will, if denied there, stand the best chance of withstanding “basis in fact” review in Federal Court.
Information about the stance of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). on Conscientious Objection, please refer to the following materials:
Presbyterians and Military Service Information
World War II was a very important period in the history of U.S. conscientious objectors. When the draft was activated, it was the first peacetime draft in U.S. history, beginning before U.S. entry into the war. For the first time in a U.S. war, COs were permitted to serve their country not by being drafted into the military, but by engaging in alternative service called Civilian Public Service, or CPS. Also during World War II, the definition of CO was expanded to include religious persons who were not members of the three historic peace churches (Friends, Mennonites, and Brethren). The passion of the World War II COs to serve their country in nonviolent ways during wartime continues to have an impact today.
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: Click through to Center on Conscience & War web site. Extending and Defending the Rights of Conscientious Objectors to War & Violence