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The U.S. Supreme Court certainly does not think that the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 50 U.S.C.S. App. § 456 (j), exclusion of those persons with "essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code" should be read to exclude 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.
Elliott Ashton Welsh II was convicted of refusing to submit to induction into the Armed Forces despite his claim for conscientious objector status under § 6 (j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act. That provision exempts from military service persons who by reason of "religious training and belief" are conscientiously opposed to war in any form, that term being defined in the Act as "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 code." In his exemption application Welsh stated that he could not affirm or deny belief in a "Supreme Being" and struck the words "my religious training and" from the form. He affirmed that he held deep conscientious scruples against participating in wars where people were killed. The Court of Appeals, while noting that Welsh’s "beliefs are held with the strength of more traditional religious convictions," concluded that those beliefs were not sufficiently "religious" to meet the terms of § 6 (j), and affirmed the conviction. Welsh contended that the Act violated the First Amendment prohibition of establishment of religion and that his conviction should be set aside on the basis of United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163, which held that the test of religious belief under § 6 (j) is whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption.
Was the absence of religious belief a satisfactory basis for denying Welsh exemption from draft as a conscientious objector?
The court reversed Welsh’s conviction under 50 U.S.C.S. App. § 462(a). In determining whether the beliefs were "religious" within the statute, the court explained, the test was whether the beliefs were sincere, intensely personal, and occupied a place in petitioner's life parallel to that filled by the God of those qualifying for the exemption. Because Welsh’s beliefs functioned as a religion in his life, he was as much entitled to an exemption as someone qualifying for traditional religious reasons. The fact that great weight was accorded religious declarations did not imply that Welsh’s non-religious declarations should be treated similarly. Nor should the exemption exclude those whose personal moral code was derived by beliefs on matters of public policy.