Our friends at the Center on Conscience & War (CCW), who extend and defend the rights of conscientious objectors to war (COs), have recently published an article that confirms trends that we have also seen these last few years. CCW’s director Maria Santelli explains:
…At least half of all COs we work with have no religious or faith tradition whatsoever. Their beliefs against war are solidly secular, and in some cases, strictly atheist. Some of the more common threads we see among these COs are an adoption of a vegan diet and gravitation toward Libertarianism that lead them to conclude that war is wrong.
In these cases, just like any other, the applicant’s legal burden is the same: they must prove that they are opposed to their participation in war; that these beliefs developed after they joined the military; and that these beliefs are a controlling force in their lives. Their task doesn’t change, whether their moral framework was formed in a pew or from a podcast. Their beliefs and the weight of their individual conscience can be as powerful and compelling as any religious faith.
Today’s situation is a far different from the religious-only claims of the past.
When CCW was founded in 1940, the only way one could legally qualify as a CO was if his (and it was only men during the draft, of course) objection was based on his religious beliefs. This was an improvement on the 1917 draft law, which required not only that the individual hold religious beliefs against their participation in war, but also that they be a member of a church that had a stated position against war.