United States v. Seeger United States v. Jakobson Peter v. United States

Decision Date08 March 1965
Docket Number51,29,Nos. 50,s. 50
Citation380 U.S. 163,85 S.Ct. 850,13 L.Ed.2d 733
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Daniel Andrew SEEGER. UNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Arno Sascha JAKOBSON. Forest Britt PETER, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES
CourtU.S. Supreme Court

Duane B. Beeson, San Francisco, Cal., for petitioner in No. 29.

Kenneth W. Greenawalt, New York City, for respondent in No. 50.

Herman Adlerstein, New York City, for respondent in No. 51.

Mr. Justice CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.

These cases involve claims of conscientious objectors under § 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 50 U.S.C.App. § 456(j) (1958 ed.), which exempts from combatant training and service in the armed forces of the United States those persons who by reason of their religious training and belief are conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form. The cases were consolidated for argument and we consider them together although each involves different facts and circumstances. The parties raise the basic question of the constitutionality of the section which defines the term 'religious training and belief,' as used in the Act, as 'an individual's belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but (not including) essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.' The constitutional attack is launched under the First Amendment's Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses and is twofold: (1) The section does not exempt nonreligious conscientious objectors; and (2) it discriminates between different forms of religious expression in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Jakobson (No. 51) and Peter (No. 29) also claim that their beliefs come within the meaning of the section. Jakobson claims that he meets the standards of § 6(j) because his opposition to war is based on belief in a Supreme Reality and is therefore an obligation superior to one resulting from man's relationship to his fellow man. Peter contends that his opposition to war derives from his acceptance of the existence of a universal power beyond that of man and that this acceptance in fact constitutes belief in a Supreme Being, qualifying him for exemption. We granted certiorari in each of the cases because of their importance in the administration of the Act. 377 U.S. 922, 84 S.Ct. 1219, 12 L.Ed.2d 214.

We have concluded that Congress, in using the expression 'Supreme Being' rather than the designation 'God,' was merely clarifying the meaning of religious training and belief so as to embrace all religions and to exclude essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views. We believe that under this construction, the test of belief 'in a relation to a Supreme Being' is whether a given belief that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox belief in God of one who clearly qualifies for the exemption. Where such beliefs have parallel positions in the lives of their respective holders we cannot say that one is 'in a relation to a Supreme Being' and the other is not. We have concluded that the beliefs of the objectors in these cases meet these criteria, and, accordingly, we affirm the judgments in Nos. 50 and 51 and reverse the judgment in No. 29.


No. 50: Seeger was convicted in the District Court for the Southern District of New York of having refused to submit to induction in the armed forces. He was originally classified 1—A in 1953 by his local board, but this classification was changed in 1955 to 2—S (student) and he remained in this status until 1958 when he was reclassified 1—A. He first claimed exemption as a conscientious objector in 1957 after successive annual renewals of his student classification. Although he did not adopt verbatim the printed Selective Service System form, he declared that he was conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form by reason of his 'religious' belief; that he preferred to leave the question as to his belief in a Supreme Being open, 'rather than answer 'yes' or 'no"; that his 'skepticism or disbelief in the existence of God' did 'not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever'; that his was a 'belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes, and a religious faith in a purely ethical creed.' R. 69—70, 73. He cited such personages as Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza for support of his ethical belief in intellectual and moral integrity 'without belief in God, except in the remotest sense.' R. 73. His belief was found to be sincere, hon- est, and made in good faith; and his conscientious objection to be based upon individual training and belief, both of which included research in religious and cultural fields. Seeger's claim, however, was denied solely because it was not based upon a 'belief in a relation to a Supreme Being' as required by § 6(j) of the Act. At trial Seeger's counsel admitted that Seeger's belief was not in relation to a Supreme Being as commonly understood, but contended that he was entitled to the exemption because 'under the present law Mr. Seeger's position would also include definitions of religion which have been stated more recently,' R. 49, and could be 'accommodated' under the definition of religious training and belief in the Act, R. 53. He was convicted and the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the Supreme Being requirement of the section distinguished 'between internally derived and externally compelled beliefs' and was, therefore, an 'impermissible classification' under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. 326 F.2d 846.

No. 51: Jakobson was also convicted in the Southern District of New York on a charge of refusing to submit to induction. On his appeal the Court of Appeals reversed on the ground that rejection of his claim may have rested on the factual finding, erroneously made, that he did not believe in a Supreme Being as required by § 6(j). 325 F.2d 409.

Jakobson was originally classified 1—A in 1953 and intermittently enjoyed a student classification until 1956. It was not until April 1958 that he made claim to noncombatant classification (1—A—O) as a conscientious objector. He stated on the Selective Service System form that he believed in a 'Supreme Being' who was 'Creator of Man' in the sense of being 'ultimately responsible for the existence of' man and who was 'the Supreme Reality' of which 'the existence of man is the result.' R. 44. (Emphasis in the original.) He explained that his reli- gious and social thinking had developed after much meditation and thought. He had concluded that man must be 'partly spiritual' and, therefore, 'partly akin to the Supreme Reality'; and that his 'most important religious law' was that 'no man ought ever to wilfully sacrifice another man's life as a means to any other end * * *.' R. 45—46. In December 1958 he requested a 1—O classification since he felt that participation in any form of military service would involve him in 'too many situations and relationships that would be a strain on (his) conscience that (he felt he) must avoid.' R. 70. He submitted a long memorandum of 'notes on religion' in which he defined religion as the 'sum and essence of one's basic attitudes to the fundamental problems of human existence,' R. 72 (emphasis in the original); he said that he believed in 'Godness' which was 'the Ultimate Cause for the fact of the Being of the Universe'; that to deny its existence would but deny the existence of the universe because 'anything that Is, has an Ultimate Cause for its Being.' R. 73. There was a relationship to Godness, he stated, in two directions, i.e., 'vertically, towards Godness directly,' and 'horizontally, towards Godness through Mankind and the World.' R. 74. He accepted the latter one. The Board classified him 1—A—O and Jakobson appealed. The hearing officer found that the claim was based upon a personal moral code and that he was not sincere in his claim. The Appeal Board classified him 1—A. It did not indicate upon what ground it based its decision, i.e., insincerity or a conclusion that his belief was only a personal moral code. The Court of Appeals reversed, finding that his claim came within the requirements of § 6(j). Because it could not determine whether the Appeal Board had found that Jakobson's beliefs failed to come within the statutory definition, or whether it had concluded that he lacked sincerity, it directed dismissal of the indictment.

No. 29: Forest Britt Peter was convicted in the Northern District of California on a charge of refusing to submit to induction. In his Selective Service System form he stated that he was not a member of a religious sect or organization; he failed to execute section VII of the questionnaire but attached to it a quotation expressing opposition to war, in which he stated that he concurred. In a later form he hedged the question as to his belief in a Supreme Being by saying that it depended on the definition and he appended a statement that he felt it a violation of his moral code to take human life and that he considered this belief superior to his obligation to the state. As to whether his conviction was religious, he quoted with approval Reverend John Haynes Holmes' definition of religion as 'the consciousness of some power manifest in nature which helps man in the ordering of his life in harmony with its demands * * * (; it) is the supreme expression of human nature; it is man thinking his highest, feeling his deepest, and living his best.' R. 27. The source of his conviction he attributed to reading and meditation 'in our democratic American culture, with its values derived from the western religious and philosophical tradition.' Ibid. As to his belief in a...

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