West Point Graduate Granted Conscientious Objector Status

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October 16, 2007 —  After petitioning federal courts for release from the U.S. Army because his Christian beliefs compel him to love his enemies, not kill them, Captain Peter D. Brown has been granted conscientious objector status and honorably discharged from the military.

“I’m relieved the Army recognized that my religious beliefs made it impossible for me to serve as a soldier,” Brown said. “In following Jesus’ example, I could not have fired my weapon at another human being, even if he were shooting at me.”

Back from Iraq, Brown will continue seminary classes he started by correspondence in the war zone.

Brown graduated from the US Military Academy at West Point in 2004. Though he comes from a religious family, he said he had not felt the conflict between his faith and military service until after his graduation, when he attended a civilian religious education center in Holland and began to examine the Scriptures and his beliefs in greater depth. After nearly two years of study, prayer and reflection, Brown said he came to believe that Jesus “taught that I should bless those who curse me and not fight back against evil with force…. I am supposed to love everyone. Killing others is not loving them. And I am even supposed to love our enemies.”

While deployed in Iraq for more than a year, Brown applied for discharge from the Army as a conscientious objector. Though the Army-appointed Chaplain and Investigating Officer designated to investigate Brown’s conscientious objector application concluded that he was sincere and recommended that he be honorably discharged, the Army disagreed and his request was denied. In July 2007, the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union of the National Capital Area intervened on Brown’s behalf and asked a federal court in Washington, DC to order the honorable discharge. Before the court acted, the Army reconsidered the issue, this time granting Brown’s request.

“The NYCLU and ACLU have long championed the cause of religious freedom, including the religious freedom of Christian and other conscientious objectors in the military,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “Peter Brown’s discharge is an important moment in that history, and more importantly, it is a victory for religious freedom in America.”

Brown’s conscientious objector application emphasized that he is religiously opposed to participation in all wars not just to the war in Iraq. Deborah Karpatkin, the Civil Liberties Union’s cooperating attorney, explained that federal law and Army regulations require discharge from military service of individuals who show that they have become conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form, that their opposition is founded on religious training and belief, and that their position is sincere and deeply held.

“Peter Brown showed by clear and convincing evidence that he is a deeply sincere conscientious objector because of his religious training and beliefs,” Karpatkin said. “It should not have required the filing of a lawsuit for the Army to recognize those beliefs. Neither Brown’s status as a West Point-trained officer, nor his non-violent understanding of Christian doctrine, should have increased the burden on him to prove his sincerity as a conscientious objector. Now that his religious beliefs have been formally recognized, his conscience is at last free from the conflict of military service.”

Added Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the ACLU of the National Capital Area and co-counsel in the lawsuit, “The ACLU’s founder, Roger Baldwin, went to prison in 1918 because the World War I draft law made no provision for conscientious objectors. Civil liberties have advanced when the Army itself can recognize that a West Point graduate can be a sincere conscientious objector – even if it took a lawsuit to wake them up.”

Brown was stationed in New York before deploying to Iraq, and is moving to the St. Louis area to continue his seminary studies. Brown’s ACLU lawyers are filing a voluntary dismissal of his lawsuit today.