Welsh was convicted of refusing to accept induction into the armed forces. He sought
conscientious objector status but did not base it on any religious beliefs. He said
that he could not affirm nor deny the existence of a Supreme Being. Rather, Welsh
asserted his moral opposition to conflict in which people are being killed. He alleged
that the sincerity of his belief should qualify him for exemption from military duty
under the Universal Military Training and Service Act. The Act allowed only those
people whose opposition to the war was based on religious beliefs to be declared
In a 5-3 decision, the Court allowed Welsh to be declared a conscientious objector even
though he declared that his opposition to war was not based on religious convictions.
Majority Opinion: (Justice Black)|
This case has many similarities to the Seeger decision in which a person was
exempted from military service because his views were based on a his views of an
ultimate reality. The Selective Service identifies two differences between the cases.
First, Welsh insisted that his views were not religious. He crossed out the word
‘religious’ on the application form and said his views were formed “by reading in the
fields of history and sociology”. The Court rejects this claim because it places too
much emphasis on the interpretation by the individual of his beliefs. Although an
individual’s assertion that his views are religious is to be regarded highly, the
opposite proclamation is not to be similarly viewed. The other distinction the
Selective Service identified was that Welsh’s views were political in nature. This
ignore the depth of Welsh’s beliefs. Under this interpretation, the Universal Military
and Service Act, “exempts from military service all those whose consciences, spurred by
deeply held moral, ethical, or religious beliefs, would give them no rest or peace if
they allowed themselves to become a part of an instrument of war.”
This decision greatly expands the types of beliefs that can be used to obtain
conscientious objector status. The depth and fervency of the beliefs are critical to
determining which views exempt an individual from military service.
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