Is there a Constitutional basis for conscientious objection?

Byline: | Category: Culture, Military | Posted at: Monday, 6 February 2012

Regarding the decision of the Obama administration to mandate that all employers provide abortificant services, I pose this hypothetical:

If Congress can require that religious organizations must violate their sincerely held beliefs, can it also invalidate any legal basis that might exist for declaring conscientious objector status?

Discuss.  But please keep in mind that the question at hand is not about abortion, but where is the line between what government can demand and what people can assert as their First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion.

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5 Responses to “Is there a Constitutional basis for conscientious objection?”

  1. Ken Mitchell Says:

    A Constitutional basis for “conscientious objection”? Not in the 18 “enumerated powers” contained in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution. But the plain text of the 9th and 10th Amendments limit the federal government to ONLY those 18 powers. The Federal Government is absolutely and totally beyond the bounds of the Constitution in providing or mandating health care or education or any of hundreds of things that the Imperial\\\\\\\ Federal Government performs.

    If Ron Paul is elected, there might be some chance that true Constitutional questions may come into play, but no other politician in Washington today gives ANY thought to the actual Constitution of the United States.

  2. Surellin Says:

    Interesting question! I would say that federal recognition of conscienitous objection is not an enumerated power (but then, IIRC, neither is the draft). It is a pragmatic attempt to reconcile the federal government’s ASSUMED right to draft with the fact that a whole lot of people will object to said draft. As compared to the recent contraception mandate, meh, by analogy one would expect the federal government to offer a similar “conscientious objector” status. But don’t count on it – if you don’t subscribe to these people’s opinions, you are in their eyes not only stupid, but also evil.

  3. David Strom Says:

    I am not quite clear on what exactly is asked in the question.

    It seems obvious to me that the government can choose to exempt individuals from military service for religious, health, age, or other reasons. So there is certainly no conflict between conscientious objectors being given a pass on service and the constitution.

    Regarding whether it is REQUIRED that the federal government recognize conscientious objector status, I am not so sure. A cursory (very) bit of research shows that Congress has gotten to define the limits of CO status, although there is a pretty clear first amendment basis to the law.

  4. Marty Says:

    It’s not exactly clear where you’re coming from. I surmise your argument is that both coscietious objection and a right of association for religious purposes are grounded in the First Amendment, and if the latter is neutered by ObamaCare, does that not undermine the former?

    In that case, of course it does. It’s another step down the road to government as Leviathan, able to do whatever it chooses with no restraint. We’ve already been on that road for over 100 years and are pretty far along.

  5. DJacobson Says:

    The concept of ‘conscientious objector’ was a fig leaf to hide the gross violation of the constitution created by mandating involuntary servitude in spite of the 13th amendment.

    OK, with that off my chest, if the gov’t can say “You can believe anything you want, but if you act on it, collectively or individually, we’ll punish you.” then the obvious answer to your question is “Yes”.

    The only question left is if requiring people to violate their sincerely held beliefs is the result of the mandate. If think that is also obviously “Yes”, but other might disagree. OTOH, I think a lot of so-called civil rights law that violates freedom of association, also requires people to violate their sincerely held beliefs.

    My opinion is that the bill of rights might as well not exist for all the affect it has. Many people at the constitutional congress agreed.