A conscientious discharge


A Naval Academy graduate received an honorable discharge last week after two earlier denials from the Navy. The American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut had sued the Navy on the graduate's behalf, based on his religious objection to war and the potential that he might have to kill others.

Media reports suggest that conscientious objectors are pretty rare, so we've seen some pretty interesting coverage so far. The Associated Press released a pretty basic story with some of the facts and figures about how often the military approves discharges.

Applications for discharges based on conscientious objector status are relatively rare among the nation's approximately 2.3 million active and reserve military members, and they are only approved about half of the time, according to a 2007 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

From 2002 to 2006, the military approved 53 percent, or 224, of the 425 applications it received.

Michael Izbicki said that his Christian beliefs started to conflict with the military after he graduated from Naval Academy. However, there was one part of the story that made me wonder about where his beliefs stem from and whether he attends a specific kind of church.

His application for a discharge on the grounds of being a conscientious objector was denied twice.

His lawsuit alleged the decisions were based on misinformation about his religious beliefs and Quakers, whose services he had attended but with whom he is not affiliated.

Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, emphasize peace, simplicity, candor and a personal relationship with God.

The AP might be limited in time and space, so Mark Spencer of the Hartford Courant offers a little more background.

While in high school, Izbicki also began a long and sometimes arduous quest to develop his religious beliefs. He started attending a nondenominational church and eventually read the Bible from cover to cover.

A standout student and voracious reader, he studied the religions of the world as his identity as a Christian grew. While at the academy, he attended campus services, went to an off-campus Baptist church and engaged his friends in marathon discussions on faith and belief, he said.

This kind of background is helpful to understand how Izbicki went from a naval family to deciding that his faith conflicted with his military role, especially his eventual connection to Quakers.

...Izbicki's lawyer said that two Navy chaplains, three civilian-ordained clergy and two academic theologians have affirmed the "depth and sincerity" of his beliefs.

After moving to Connecticut, Izbicki had started worshipping with the Westerly Quaker Meeting in Rhode Island. Karpatkin said the investigators used their own religious beliefs to judge Izbicki's. One asserted that Quakers did not believe in Jesus Christ and implied that the faith was a cult.

Paul Vitello at the New York Times offers some more interesting details, such as portions of the transcripts from the hearings, which ran more than 700 pages.

Mr. Izbicki's beliefs are probed intensely for inconsistencies and deviations from conservative Christian belief.

One investigator, Lt. Cmdr. John A. Price, expresses surprise when Mr. Izbicki says he is not convinced that every word in the Bible is inspired by God. He questions how Mr. Izbicki can be sure, then, that the Sermon on the Mount, on which he bases his claim to know what Jesus would do, is accurate: "You realize that there's a danger when you start believing that some stuff in the Bible's not true, because then we might start believing that Jesus is not true."

At another point, Commander Price asks, "If Jesus was a pacifist, why didn't he tell all Roman soldiers to leave the army?"

Cadets are required to study the "just war" theory, a doctrine justifying military action, based largely on the writings of St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas, Vitello reports. It's unclear whether other military academies require this kind of study or whether it's specific to the Navy.

Vitello says that Izbicki was a resident of a small Quaker peace community a few blocks from the Thames River, where he prays several times a day, studies Hebrew and helps with the organic garden. Details like this make an already-interesting story even better.

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