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United States v. Seeger

January 20, 1964

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, APPELLEE,
v.
DANIEL ANDREW SEEGER, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



Author: Kaufman

Before LUMBARD, Chief Judge, and KAUFMAN and HAYS, Circuit Judges.

KAUFMAN, Circuit Judge:

On this appeal, Daniel Andrew Seeger contends that he was improperly denied an exemption from military service because his conscientious objections were not dependent upon "a belief in a relation to a Supreme Being" as required by § 6 (j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 50 U.S.C.App. § 456(j). Seeger was convicted of violating 50 U.S.C.App. § 462, because of his refusal to submit to induction, as ordered by his local Selective Service Board. At his trial before Judge Levet without a jury, he stipulated that he received an induction notice and that he refused to comply with its terms.

The statute in question, as revised in 1948, provides that the Selective Service Act shall not "be construed to require any person to 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. Religious training and belief in this connection means an individual's belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code." 50 U.S.C.App. § 456 (j). In filling out the form for those who claim conscientious objector status, Seeger found himself unable to assert categorically that he believed in a Supreme Being.

Although the government has conceded that Seeger's abhorrence of war is both sincere and predicated on "religious training and belief," as the phrase had been defined by this Court prior to the addition of the "Supreme Being" clause to the statute, United States v. Kauten, 133 F.2d 703 (2d Cir. 1943), appellant's draft board denied the exemption on the basis of its finding that Seeger's views were not grounded upon a "belief in a relation to a Supreme Being." Seeger asserts that the "Supreme Being" requirement, as applied to him, constitutes a law respecting an establishment of religion, within the meaning of the First Amendment, and an arbitrary classification, violative of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

I.

As required by law, Seeger registered with his local draft board upon attaining his eighteenth birthday in September of 1953. Apparently, his pacifist sympathies had not yet become fully developed, for in filling out his classification questionnaire, he ignored the claim for conscientious objector exemption, and simply indicated that he believed himself entitled to a student deferment. Initially classified 1-A, Seeger subsequently received the 2-S deferment and remained in that classification until August, 1958, when he was once again reclassified as 1-A.

On July 12, 1957, Seeger wrote to his local board, and for the first time revealed the conscientious objections to military service which were to lead to his refusal to submit to induction, and ultimately, to his conviction. In this letter, and in the forms and statements which soon followed, he sought to put into words the deeply-rooted beliefs and sentiments which formed the basis of his claim for an exemption.

The initial letter was itself not lengthy. "As a result of the resolution of a number of problems of conscience with which I have been preoccupied for the past months," Seeger wrote, "I am bound to declare myself unwilling to participate in any violent military conflict, or in activities made in preparation for such an undertaking. My decision arises from what I believe to be considerations of validity from the standpoint of the welfare of humanity and the preservation of the democratic values which we in the United States are struggling to maintain. I have concluded that war, from the practical standpoint, is futile and self-defeating, and that from the more important moral standpoint, it is unethical."

The nature and foundation of Seeger's objections were further illuminated in his response to the special form for conscientious objectors, prepared by the Selective Service System and forwarded to appellant by his local board. Although executing the claim for exemption from both combatant and non-combatant training and service, he significantly altered the wording of the printed form. Had he adopted the printed statement verbatim, Seeger would have declared that he was, "by reason of my religious training and belief, conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form * * *" Seeger was willing to endorse this oath as his own, but only after placing quotation marks around the word "religious," and deleting the words "training and."

His reply to the first question on the form, which inquired into his belief in a Supreme Being, was ultimately to prove fatal to Seeger's claim. Refusing to assert a simple belief or disbelief in a deity, Seeger felt compelled to express his convictions in more extensive terms. In a statement attached to the questionnaire, he explained his feeling that "the existence of God cannot be proven or disproven, and the essence of His nature cannot be determined. I prefer to admit this, and leave the question open rather than answer 'yes' or 'no.'" Seeger was anxious to explain, however, that "skepticism or disbelief in the existence of God does not necessarily mean lack of faith in anything whatsoever * * * Such personages as Plato, Aristotle and Spinoza evolved comprehensive ethical systems of intellectual and moral integrity without belief in God, except in the remotest sense." Finally, rejecting dependence upon his Creator for a guide to morality, Seeger asserted "more respect for * * * belief in and devotion to goodness and virtue for their own sakes, and a religious faith in a purely ethical creed."

With obvious sincerity, Seeger articulately attempted further to expound the ethical position to which he felt driven by his conscience. "It is our moral responsibility," he wrote, "to search for a way to maintain the recognition of the dignity and worth of the individual, the faith in reason, freedom, and individuality, and the opportunity to improve life for which democracy stands." In language which underscored the ethical foundation of his faith, he decried "the tremendous spiritual price that man pays for his willingness to resort to the mass destruction of human life to perpetrate his 'ideals.'" "I cannot," Seeger insisted, "participate in actions which betray the cause of freedom and humanity. Experience with the past indicates that our armament policy will lead to war, and war, with its indiscriminate crushing of human personality, cannot preserve moral values * * * To resort to immoral means is not to preserve or vindicate moral values, but only to become collaborators in destroying all moral life among men."

Unmoved by his appeal, the selective service board voted to retain Seeger's 1-A classification, and ordered him to report for a pre-induction physical examination. When a personal appearance before the board failed to produce a different result, Seeger sought review by an Appeal Board which, in routine fashion, forwarded his file to the Department of Justice for an advisory opinion. The Department, in turn, requested the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as it does in all such cases, to investigate the accuracy and sincerity of Seeger's claims. And, as a result of this investigation, a highly favorable portrait of the appellant began to develop.

Seeger, it was revealed, was the son of an "exceptionally religious" Roman Catholic family, and two of his uncles had become priests. An honor student in high school, Seeger's academic record in college was outstanding, and he had been selected as editor-in-chief of his college newspaper. Friends, teachers and employers interviewed by the Bureau spoke highly of his personal qualities, with particular emphasis being placed on Seeger's unquestioned ...


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