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United States v. Heidt

decided: June 18, 1971.


Kaufman, Anderson and Mansfield,*fn* Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansfield

MANSFIELD, Circuit Judge:

After a trial by jury James Edward Heidt appeals from a judgment of conviction for wilfully refusing to submit to induction into the Armed Forces. 50 App. U.S.C. ยง 462(a). He was sentenced to imprisonment for a year and a day by Judge Harold P. Burke of the Western District of New York, and has been released on his own recognizance pending this appeal.

Heidt contends that he is a conscientious objector and that there was no basis in fact*fn1 for his draft board's refusal to so classify him. We agree and accordingly we reverse.

Heidt, a resident of Buffalo, New York, was born on November 10, 1943. He registered with his local draft board on November 16, 1961, shortly after his 18th birthday. In September of 1962 he filed with the board his initial Classification Questionnaire, in which he indicated that he had been graduated from high school and was working as a machine operator in a Western Electric plant. Although he did not claim on this form either a ministerial exemption or a request for a conscientious objector status (hereinafter "CO"), we attach no significance to these omissions. He was not yet a baptized Jehovah's Witness and the questionnaire was mainly directed to such matters as current address, family status, and present occupation.

On October 1, 1962, Heidt was classified I-A (suitable for service) and shortly afterwards, on December 29, 1962, he was formally baptized into the Jehovah's Witnesses, after a long and rigorous period of instruction in that faith.*fn2 Nothing of significance occurred thereafter until May 13, 1964, when he was ordered to report for a physical examination. On May 24, he went in person to his draft board and asked to be considered for a minister's exemption, a status to which he was not entitled because he was not a Pioneer Minister in his sect and preaching in his church was not his vocation within the meaning of applicable draft laws.*fn3 The draft board clerk apparently recognized, however, that he might qualify as a conscientious objector and accordingly supplied him with the Selective Service form for conscientious objectors (SSS Form 150).

He submitted his SSS Form 150 on July 6, 1964,*fn4 but did not sign Series I of that form, which required him categorically to claim exemptions from (a) combatant training or service, or (b) from both combatant and noncombatant training and service. Instead he wrote "Refer to Attached Sheet" and attached a seven-page statement dated July 2, 1964, outlining in detail the history of his conversion and baptism as a member of Jehovah's Witnesses and his basic religious tenets as a member of that sect, including:

"I have the right to claim neutrality and the rights of neutrals because of my status as an ambassador of God's kingdom. This is exactly the same position Christ Jesus and his apostles took.

"As an ambassador for Christ, I am already in an army to serve as a 'soldier of Christ Jesus.' (2 Timothy 2:3, 4) Since the Christians' war is not against flesh and blood, I am not authorized by my Commander-in-Chief, Jehovah God, to engage in carnal warfare of this world. Furthermore, being enlisted in the army of Christ Jesus, I cannot desert the forces of Jehovah to assume the obligations of a soldier in any army of this world without being guilty of desertion and suffering the punishment meted out by Almighty God to deserters."

He also explained that although there were some circumstances where he would use force (such as self-defense, using as much force as appears reasonably necessary), outside of such very limited situations there "are no other circumstances where the law of God authorized killing." Enclosed with his letter was a reprint from the "Watchtower" magazine dated February 1, 1951, signed by him, which outlined the beliefs of Jehovah's Witnesses regarding military service and armed conflict. Although Heidt's letter and his separate handwritten attachment mistakenly stated that as a "Minister" he was exempt from both combatant and noncombatant service, his response as a whole unquestionably made out a prima facie case for CO status.

On July 6, 1964, the local board again classified Heidt I-A. At his request the board held a hearing on August 3, at which he personally appeared. The board's version of the hearing included the following:

"He [Heidt] is very sincere about his beliefs and since he began his study he realized the importance of serving God and of being one of his Witnesses in these times in which we are living.

"The Board: 'We are more interested in your serving in the Army. Let us hear what you have to say on that.' 'My objections are based on the Bible which states that, "we should love our neighbor as ourselves."' He recalled the Sermon on the Mount and said that a man who will take up arms against another has very little love for that man * * * we should keep men from going to war against each other."

The board voted 4 to 0 to continue appellant's I-A classification. On August 14, 1964, he requested an ...

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