Reconsidering Selective Conscientious Objection

Andrew J. Haile*

In 1971, in the midst of the Vietnam War, the United States Su-preme Court decided that to qualify as a conscientious objector (“CO”) one must oppose all war, and not just a particular war. The Court’s decision in Gillette v. United States turned on its interpretation of section 6(j) of the Military Selective Service Act.2 Section 6(j) provided, in relevant part, that no person shall “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.” According to the Court, “an objection involving a particular war rather than all war would plainly not be covered by § 6(j).” Consequently, the Court construed the exemption from combatant military service in section 6(j) not to extend to so-called “selective conscientious objectors” (“SCOs”).

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* Associate Professor, Elon University School of Law. The author would like to thank Sue Liemer and William A. Eagles for their feedback on drafts of this article. The author also thanks Timaura Barfield for her outstanding work as a research assistant.

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