346 U.S. 389 (1953), 57, Dickinson v. United States

Docket NºNo. 57
Citation346 U.S. 389, 74 S.Ct. 152, 98 L.Ed. 132
Party NameDickinson v. United States
Case DateNovember 30, 1953
CourtUnited States Supreme Court

Page 389

346 U.S. 389 (1953)

74 S.Ct. 152, 98 L.Ed. 132



United States

No. 57

United States Supreme Court

Nov. 30, 1953

Argued October 21, 1953




There was no basis in fact for denying petitioner's claim to ministerial exemption under § 6(g) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, and his conviction for refusing to submit to his local board's induction order is reversed. Pp. 390-397.

(a) The provision of the Act that classification orders by selective service authorities shall be "final" does not preclude judicial inquiry into the question of jurisdiction where there is no basis, in fact, for the classification order. P. 394.

(b) The ministerial exemption being a matter of legislative grace, the registrant bears the burden of clearly establishing a right to the exemption. Pp. 394-395.

(c) Petitioner made out a prima facie case within the statutory exemption by uncontroverted evidence that he was ordained in accordance with the ritual of his sect (Jehovah's Witnesses) and that he was regularly engaged, as a vocation, in teaching and preaching the principles of his sect and conducting public worship in the tradition of his religion. P. 395.

(d) That petitioner worked five hours a week as a radio repairman did not supply a factual basis for denial of the ministerial exemption to which he was otherwise entitled. Pp. 395-396.

(e) There is no affirmative evidence in the record in this case to support the local board's overt or implicit finding that petitioner had not painted a complete or accurate picture of his activities. P. 396.

(f) When the uncontroverted evidence supporting a registrant's claim places him prima facie within the statutory exemption, the claim may not be dismissed solely on the basis of suspicion and speculation. Pp. 396-397.

203 F.2d 336 reversed.

Page 390

CLARK, J., lead opinion

MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

The principal and decisive issue before us is whether there was a basis in fact for denying Dickinson's claim to a ministerial exemption under § 6(g) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 62 Stat. 611, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 456(g).1 After the selective service authorities denied his claim, Dickinson refused to submit to induction in defiance of his local board's induction order. For this refusal he was convicted, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California,2 of violating § 12(a)3 of the Act. The Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the conviction. 203 F.2d 336. We granted certiorari. 345 U.S. 991=.

Section 6(g) is the source of the ministerial exemption. It provides, in pertinent part, that

Regular or duly ordained ministers of religion, as defined in this title, . . . shall be exempt from training and service (but not from registration) under this title.


Page 391

16(g) embodies Congress' definition of a "regular or duly ordained minister of religion."

(1) The term "duly ordained minister of religion" means a person [74 S.Ct. 155] who has been ordained, in accordance with the ceremonial, ritual, or discipline of a church, religious sect, or organization established on the basis of a community of faith and belief, doctrines, and practices of a religious character, to preach and to teach the doctrines of such church, sect, or organization, and to administer the rites and ceremonies thereof in public worship, and who, as his regular and customary vocation, preaches and teaches the principles of religion and administers the ordinances of public worship as embodied in the creed or principles of such church, sect, or organization.

(2) The term "regular minister of religion" means one who, as his customary vocation, preaches and teaches the principles of religion of a church, a religious sect, or organization of which he is a member, without having been formally ordained as a minister of religion, and who is recognized by such church, sect, or organization as a regular minister.

(3) The term "regular or duly ordained minister of religion" does not include a person who irregularly or incidentally preaches and teaches the principles of religion of a church, religious sect, or organization, and does not include any person who may have been duly ordained a minister in accordance with the ceremonial, rite, or discipline of a church, religious sect or organization, but who does not regularly, as a vocation, teach and preach the principles of religion and administer the ordinances of public worship as embodied in the creed or principles of his church, sect, or organization.

Page 392

Registrants who satisfy this definition are entitled to be classified IV-D. 32 C.F.R. § 1622.43.4

Dickinson, a Jehovah's Witness, originally claimed IV-D in 1948, shortly after he registered under the Act. At that time, he stated, in his classification questionnaire, that he was a "regular," but not an ordained, minister, and was working 40 hours a week as a radio repairman. From other documents submitted to the board, it appeared that he devoted an uncertain number of hours a week leading two Bible study groups and "several hours each week" preaching to the public. On these facts, he was classified I-A in July, 1950. The validity of this classification is not at issue.

What is at issue is the decision of Dickinson's local board to continue him in I-A in September, 1950 ,after he requested reclassification based on changed conditions in his vocation occurring subsequent to the filing of his questionnaire in 1948. Through his sworn testimony at a personal appearance before the board and subsequent letters to the selective service authorities, and through the affidavit of one C. David Easter, a"supervisor" for the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in the San Francisco area, supplemented by three letters from the Society itself, Dickinson established the following uncontradicted facts.

In the Spring of 1949, Dickinson voluntarily left his 40-hour-a-week job as a radio repairman and was baptized, the mark of ordination to Jehovah's Witnesses. In August, 1949, he was enrolled by national headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society and began his work as a full-time "pioneer" minister, devoting 150 hours each month to religious efforts. This shift in Dickinson's activities occurred after February, 1949,

Page 393

when selection under the Act was at a standstill, regular inductions having been halted.5 As of January, 1950, Dickinson changed his residence in order to assume the role of "Company Servant" or presiding minister of the Coalinga, [74 S.Ct. 156] California, "Company," which encompassed a 5,400-square-mile area. At that time, he dedicated approximately 100 hours each month to actual pioneer missionary work-delivering public sermons, door-to-door preaching, conducting home Bible studies. In the remaining 50 hours devoted to religious activities each month, Dickinson studied, planned sermons and discourses, and wrote letters connected with his work. A substantial portion of this time was spent conducting three to four meetings each week of the "Company" or congregation at a public hall in Coalinga. Dickinson arranged for and presided over these meetings, usually delivering discourses at them. He also instructed prospective ministers in the proper delivery of sermons at the "Company's" Theocratic Ministry School. Dickinson received no salary for his missionary or company servant work. He lived on $35 a month earned by a weekly average of five hours of radio repair work. This modest income, a low $15-17.50 a month rental for an apartment, self-performance of household tasks, and invitations to various private homes enabled Dickinson to subsist.

Despite this uncontroverted evidence of marked change in Dickinson's activities, the local board continued him in I-A. This ruling was affirmed by the state and national appeal boards, and he was ordered to report for induction on July 16, 1951. Dickinson reported to the

Page 394

induction center, but refused to submit to induction. His indictment and conviction followed.

At the outset, it is important to underline an elemental feature of this case. The Universal Military Training and Service Act does not permit direct judicial review of selective service classification orders. Rather, the Act provides, as did the 1917 and 1940 conscription Acts before it,6 that classification orders by selective service authorities shall be "final." However, in Estep v. United States, 327 U.S. 114 at 122-123 (1946), a case arising under the 1940 Act, this Court said:

The provision making the decisions of the local boards "final" means to us that Congress chose not to give administrative action under this Act the customary scope of judicial review which obtains under other statutes. It means that the courts are not to weigh the evidence to determine whether the classification made by the local boards was justified. The decisions of the local boards made in conformity with the regulations are final even though they may be erroneous. The question of jurisdiction of the local board is reached only if there is no basis, in fact, for the classification which it gave the registrant.

The ministerial exemption, as was pointed out in the Senate Report accompanying the 1948 Act, "is a narrow one, intended for the leaders of the various religious faiths, and not for the members generally." S.Rep. No. 1268, 80th Cong., 2d Sess. 13. Certainly all members of a religious organization or sect are not entitled to the exemption by reason of their membership, even though, in their belief, each is a minister. Cf. Cox v. United States, 332 U.S. 442 (1947). On the other hand, a legitimate minister cannot be, for the...

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