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United States v. Girouard

380 U.S. 163 (1965)

Facts of the Case:

Girouard was a Canadian citizen who sought naturalization in the United States. He refused to pledge that he would bear arms for the military because it was contrary to the teachings of the Seventh Day Adventist Church of which he was a member. He was willing to serve in the military in a non-combat role, but his faith prevented him from engaging in combat.


In a 5-3 decision, the Court relied on the historic notion of religious tolerance to allow the naturalization of people whose religious faiths prevent them from complying with all the terms of the oath of allegiance.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Douglas)

The precise wording of the oath of citizenship does not compel the candidate to state his willingness to bear arms. There are numerous other ways a citizen can assist in defending the country in times of war. "The effort of war is indivisible; and those whose religious scruples prevent them from killing are no less patriots than those whose special traits or handicaps result in their assignment to duties far behind the fighting front." Girouard's religious convictions would not prevent him from serving in Congress, and it is not logical to expect more from naturalized citizens than from those in the government. The country's history of religious tolerance forces the acceptance of many people whose faiths prevent them from doing certain things.


This decision is a rather direct reversal of the Court's earlier decisions in Schwimmer and Macintosh cases. Rather than stress the importance of the government's ability to require military service, this decision emphasizes the enduring struggles for freedom of thought and religion. The Court does not think it proper to restrict citizenship to people without religious convictions that prevent their total acceptance of each of the duties of citizens.

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