You are currently viewing Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333; 90 S. Ct. 1792; 26 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1970)

Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333; 90 S. Ct. 1792; 26 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1970)

Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333; 90 S. Ct. 1792; 26 L. Ed. 2d 308 (1970)

Facts—Welsh was convicted in federal court for refusing to submit to induction into the armed forces, after his application for conscientious objector classification had been denied. Under the statute this status is accorded to those persons who by reason of “religious training and belief” are conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form. Specifically excluded by the statute from such training and belief are “essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal code.” Welsh based his claim on his belief that it is wrong to participate in any war but he stated that his views were not religious. He was not a member of any organized religion at that time.

Question—Does federal law exempt inductees from military service when their objection is based on nonreligious views?


ReasonsJ. Black (5–3). Even though Welsh’s conscientious objection to war was undeniably based in part on his perception of world politics, the statute should not be read to exclude from classification as conscientious objectors those who hold strong beliefs about our domestic and foreign affairs or even those whose conscientious objection to participation in all wars is founded to a substantial extent upon considerations of public policy. The beliefs involved must be held with the strength of more traditional religious convictions.

Note—Originally used only by those claiming a conscientious objector status on religious grounds, in United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 128 (1965), the exception grounds were expanded to include deeply held moral and philosophical views. When, however, in reaction to the unpopularity of the Vietnam War, a claim was made only for a specific war, the Court refused. In Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971), in dealing with issues growing out of the Vietnam conflict, the Court handed down some important decisions. Thus, in Oestereich v. Selective Service Board, 393 U.S. 233 (1962), the Court held a draft board could not withdraw a divinity student’s classification because he participated in an antiwar rally, or accelerate an inductee call because he turned in his draft card, as in Gunecht v. United States, 396 U.S. 295 (1970), and that a draft board must honor a nonfrivolous request to reexamine a classification, as in Mulloy v. United States, 398 U.S. 410 (1970).

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