Welsh, Ii v. United States, No. 76

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Writing for the CourtMr. Justice BLACK announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Mr. Justice DOUGLAS
Citation90 S.Ct. 1792,26 L.Ed.2d 308,398 U.S. 333
Decision Date15 June 1970
Docket NumberNo. 76
PartiesElliott Ashton WELSH, II, Petitioner, v. UNITED STATES

398 U.S. 333
90 S.Ct. 1792
26 L.Ed.2d 308
Elliott Ashton WELSH, II, Petitioner,

v.

UNITED STATES.

No. 76.
Argued Jan. 20, 1970.
Decided June 15, 1970.

[Syllabus from pages 333-334 intentionally omitted]

Page 334

J. B. Tietz, Los Angeles, Cal., for petitioner.

Solicitor Gen. Erwin N. Griswold for respondent.

Page 335

Mr. Justice BLACK announced the judgment of the Court and delivered an opinion in which Mr. Justice DOUGLAS, Mr. Justice BRENNAN, and Mr. Justice MARSHALL join.

The petitioner, Elliott Ashton Welsh II, was convicted by a United States District Judge of refusing to submit to induction into the Armed Forces in violation of 50 U.S.C. App. § 462(a), and was on June 1, 1966, sentenced to imprisonment for three years. One of petitioner's defenses to the prosecution was that § 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act exempted him from combat and noncombat service because he was 'by reason of religious training and belief * * * conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.'1 After finding that there was no religious basis for petitioner's conscientious objector claim, the Court of Appeals, Judge Hamley dissenting, affirmed the conviction. 404 F.2d 1078 (1968). We granted certiorari chiefly to review the contention that Welsh's conviction should be set aside on the basis of this Court's decision in United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 85 S.Ct. 850, 13 L.Ed.2d 733 (1965). 396 U.S. 816, 90 S.Ct. 53, 24 L.Ed.2d 67 (1969). For the reasons to be stated, and without passing upon the constitutional arguments that have been raised, we vote to reverse this conviction because of its fundamental inconsistency with United States v. Seeger, supra.

The controlling facts in this case are strikingly similar to those in Seeger. Both Seeger and Welsh were brought up in religious homes and attended church in their childhood, but in neither case was this church one which taught its members not to engage in war at any time for

Page 336

any reason. Neither Seeger nor Welsh continued his childhood religious ties into his young manhood, and neither belonged to any religious group or adhered to the teachings of any organized religion during the period of his involvement with the Selective Service System. At the time of registration for the draft, neither had yet come to accept pacifist principles. Their views on war developed only in subsequent years, but when their ideas did fully mature both made application to their local draft boards for conscientious objector exemptions from military service under § 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act. That section then provided, in part:2

'Nothing contained in this title shall be construed to require any person to be subject to combatant training and service in the armed forces of the United States who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form. Religious training and belief in this connection means an individual's belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.'

In filling out their exemption applications both Seeger and Welsh were unable to sign the statement that, as printed in the Selective Service form, stated 'I am, by reason of my religious training and belief, conscien-

Page 337

tiously opposed to participation in war in any form.' Seeger could sign only after striking the words 'training and' and putting quotation marks around the word 'religious.' Welsh could sign only after striking the words 'my religious training and.' On those same applications, neither could definitely affirm or deny that he believed in a 'Supreme Being,' both stating that they preferred to leave the question open.3 But both Seeger and Welsh affirmed on those applications that they held deep conscientious scruples against taking part in wars where people were killed. Both strongly believed that killing in war was wrong, unethical, and immoral, and their consciences forbade them to take part in such an evil practice. Their objection to participating in war in any form could not be said to come from a 'still, small voice of conscience'; rather, for them that voice was so loud and insistent that both men preferred to go to jail rather than serve in the Armed Forces. There was never any question about the sincerity and depth of Seeger's convictions as a conscientious objector, and the same is true of Welsh. In this regard the Court of Appeals noted, '(t)he government concedes that (Welsh's) beliefs are held with the strength of more traditional religious convictions.' 404 F.2d, at 1081. But in both cases the Selective Service System concluded that the beliefs of these men were in some sense insufficiently 'religious' to qualify them for conscientious objector exemptions under the terms of § 6(j). Seeger's conscientious objector claim 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,' United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 167, 85 S.Ct. 850, 854, 13 L.Ed.2d 733 (1965), while Welsh was

Page 338

denied the exemption because his Appeal Board and the Department of Justice hearing officer 'could find no religious basis for the registrant's beliefs, opinions and convictions.' App. 52. Both Seeger and Welsh subsequently refused to submit to induction into the military and both were convicted of that offense.

In Seeger the Court was confronted, first, with the problem that § 6(j) defined 'religious training and belief' in terms of a 'belief in a relation to a Supreme Being * * *,' a definition that arguably gave a preference to those who believed in a conventional God as opposed to those who did not. Noting the 'vast panoply of beliefs' prevalent in our country, the Court construed the congressional intent as being in 'keeping with its long-established policy of not picking and choosing among religious beliefs,' id., at 175, 85 S.Ct., at 859, and accordingly interpreted 'the meaning of religious training and belief so as to embrace all religions * * *.' Id., at 165, 85 S.Ct., at 854. (Emphasis added.) But, having decided that all religious conscientious objectors were entitled to the exemption, we faced the more serious problem of determining which beliefs were 'religious' within the meaning of the statute. This question was particularly difficult in the case of Seeger himself. Seeger stated 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.' 380 U.S., at 166, 85 S.Ct., at 854. In a letter to his draft board, he wrote:

'My decision arises from what I believe to be considerations of validity from the standpoint of the welfare of humanity and the preservation of the democratic values which we in the United States are struggling to maintain. I have concluded that war, from the practical standpoint, is futile and self-defeating, and that from the more important moral standpoint, it is unethical.' 326 F.2d 846, 848 (2 Cir. 1964).

Page 339

On the basis of these and similar assertions, the Government argued that Seeger's conscientious objection to war was not 'religious' but stemmed from 'essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.'

In resolving the question whether Seeger and the other registrants in that case qualified for the exemption, the Court stated that '(the) task is to decide whether the beliefs professed by a registrant are sincerely held and whether they are, in his own scheme of things, religious.' 380 U.S., at 185, 85 S.Ct., at 863. (Emphasis added.) The reference to the registrant's 'own scheme of things' was intended to indicate that the central consideration in determining whether the registrant's beliefs are religious is whether these beliefs play the role of a religion and function as a religion in the registrant's life. The Court's principal statement of its test for determining whether a conscientious objector's beliefs are religious within the meaning of § 6(j) was as follows:

'The test might be stated in these words: A sincere and meaningful belief which occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualifying for the exemption comes within the statutory definition.' 380 U.S., at 176, 85 S.Ct., at 859.

The Court made it clear that these sincere and meaningful beliefs that prompt the registrant's objection to all wars need not be confined in either source or content to traditional or parochial concepts of religion. It held that § 6(j) 'does not distinguish between externally and internally derived beliefs,' id., at 186, 85 S.Ct., at 864 and also held that 'intensely personal' convictions which some might find 'incomprehensible' or 'incorrect' come within the meaning of 'religious belief' in the Act. Id., at 184—185, 85 S.Ct., at 863—864. What is necessary under Seeger for a registrant's consci-

Page 340

entious objection to all war to be 'religious' within the meaning of § 6(j) is that this opposition to war stem from the registrant's moral, ethical, or religious beliefs about what is right and wrong and that these beliefs be held with the strength of traditional religious convictions. Most of the great religions of today and of the past have embodied the idea of a Supreme Being or a Supreme Reality—a God—who communicates to man in some way a consciousness of what is right and should be done, of what is wrong and therefore should be shunned. If an individual deeply and sincerely holds beliefs that are purely ethical or moral in source and content but that nevertheless impose upon him a duty of conscience to refrain from participating in any war at any time, those beliefs certainly occupy in the life of that...

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593 practice notes
  • Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Comm'n, 1:15–cv–134–RP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 20, 2018
    ...(internal citations omitted) (citing Califano v. Westcott , 443 U.S. 76, 99 S.Ct. 2655, 61 L.Ed.2d 382 (1979) ); Welsh v. United States , 398 U.S. 333, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970) ; see also Califano , 443 U.S. at 89, 99 S.Ct. 2655 (quoting Welsh , 398 U.S. at 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792 ) ......
  • Dickerson v. Bailey, No. CIV.A.H-99-1247.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 17, 2002
    ...wine and beer from out-of-state were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement. 199 F.Supp.2d at 416, citing Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970)(Harlan J., concurring)(court may "either declare [the statute] a nullity and order that its bene......
  • Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., No. 93-1736
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • December 7, 1994
    ...but in The Harrisburg," Moragne, 398 U.S. at 378, 90 S.Ct. at 1776, only the latter of which Moragne accordingly overruled. Id. at 409, 90 S.Ct. at 1792. 40 See also id. ("The felt necessity for a DOHSA saving clause, then, may be traced to the fact that [state] wrongful death statutes like......
  • Davis v. Michigan Department of Treasury, No. 87-1020
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 28, 1989
    ...79 L.Ed.2d 646 (1984). See Iowa-Des Moines National Bank, supra, 284 U.S., at 247, 52 S.Ct., at 136; see also Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 1807, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring in judgment). In this case, appellant's claim could be resolved either ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
589 cases
  • Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. v. Tex. Alcoholic Beverage Comm'n, 1:15–cv–134–RP
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Western District of Texas
    • March 20, 2018
    ...(internal citations omitted) (citing Califano v. Westcott , 443 U.S. 76, 99 S.Ct. 2655, 61 L.Ed.2d 382 (1979) ); Welsh v. United States , 398 U.S. 333, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970) ; see also Califano , 443 U.S. at 89, 99 S.Ct. 2655 (quoting Welsh , 398 U.S. at 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792 ) ......
  • Dickerson v. Bailey, No. CIV.A.H-99-1247.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. United States District Courts. 5th Circuit. Southern District of Texas
    • July 17, 2002
    ...wine and beer from out-of-state were unconstitutional and enjoined their enforcement. 199 F.Supp.2d at 416, citing Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970)(Harlan J., concurring)(court may "either declare [the statute] a nullity and order that its bene......
  • Calhoun v. Yamaha Motor Corp., U.S.A., No. 93-1736
    • United States
    • U.S. Court of Appeals — Third Circuit
    • December 7, 1994
    ...but in The Harrisburg," Moragne, 398 U.S. at 378, 90 S.Ct. at 1776, only the latter of which Moragne accordingly overruled. Id. at 409, 90 S.Ct. at 1792. 40 See also id. ("The felt necessity for a DOHSA saving clause, then, may be traced to the fact that [state] wrongful death statutes like......
  • Davis v. Michigan Department of Treasury, No. 87-1020
    • United States
    • United States Supreme Court
    • March 28, 1989
    ...79 L.Ed.2d 646 (1984). See Iowa-Des Moines National Bank, supra, 284 U.S., at 247, 52 S.Ct., at 136; see also Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 361, 90 S.Ct. 1792, 1807, 26 L.Ed.2d 308 (1970) (Harlan, J., concurring in judgment). In this case, appellant's claim could be resolved either ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
4 books & journal articles
  • ESTABLISHMENT'S POLITICAL PRIORITY TO FREE EXERCISE.
    • United States
    • Notre Dame Law Review Vol. 97 Nbr. 2, January 2022
    • January 1, 2022
    ...Military Training and Service Act [section] 6(j), 50 U.S.C. App. [section] 456(j) (1958) (repealed 1967)); Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 337, 344 (1970) (quoting the (131) United States v. Lee, 455 U.S. 252 (1982); Goldman v. Weinberger, 475 U.S. 503 (1986); Bowen v. Roy, 476 U.S. 6......
  • Born-Again RFRA: Will the Military Backslide on its Religious Conversion?
    • United States
    • Missouri Law Review Vol. 87 Nbr. 2, March 2022
    • March 22, 2022
    ...Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others"); see also United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 165 (1964); Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970) (interpreting the definition of religion in the Universal Military Training and Service Act "to exclude essentially political, sociological......
  • Accommodating Religious Users of Controlled Substances: A Model Amendment to the Controlled Substances Act
    • United States
    • Journal of Drug Issues Nbr. 24-3, July 1994
    • July 1, 1994
    ...courts arecapable of making. [Citation omitted.]" See also United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, 165-166(1965); Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 341 (1970); Thomas v. Review Bd., 450 U.S. 707,715-716 (1981); Tribe 1988: 1181.478JOURNAL OF DRUG ISSUES ACCOMMODATING RELIGIOUS USERS OF C......
  • The Supreme Court of the United States, 1969-1970
    • United States
    • Political Research Quarterly Nbr. 23-4, December 1970
    • December 1, 1970
    ...Service regulations. The Selective Service case that undoubtedly attracted the most attention during this term was Welsh v. United States (398 U.S. 333; 90 S. Ct. 1792) withan opinion by Justice Black (vote: 5-3, White, Burger, and Stewart dissenting,Blackmun abstaining). Here in interpreti......

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