There was no basis in fact for denying petitioner's claim to
ministerial exemption under § 6(g) of the Universal Military
Training and Service Act, and his conviction for refusing to submit
to his local board's induction order is reversed. Pp. 346 U. S.
(a) The provision of the Act that classification orders by
selective service authorities shall be "final" does not preclude
judicial inquiry into the question of jurisdiction where there is
no basis, in fact, for the classification order. P. 346 U. S.
(b) The ministerial exemption being a matter of legislative
grace, the registrant bears the burden of clearly establishing a
right to the exemption. Pp. 346 U. S.
(c) Petitioner made out a prima facie
case within the
statutory exemption by uncontroverted evidence that he was ordained
in accordance with the ritual of his sect (Jehovah's Witnesses) and
that he was regularly engaged, as a vocation, in teaching and
preaching the principles of his sect and conducting public worship
in the tradition of his religion. P. 346 U. S.
(d) That petitioner worked five hours a week as a radio
repairman did not supply a factual basis for denial of the
ministerial exemption to which he was otherwise entitled. Pp.
346 U. S.
(e) There is no affirmative evidence in the record in this case
to support the local board's overt or implicit finding that
petitioner had not painted a complete or accurate picture of his
activities. P. 346 U. S.
(f) When the uncontroverted evidence supporting a registrant's
claim places him prima facie
within the statutory
exemption, the claim may not be dismissed solely on the basis of
suspicion and speculation. Pp. 346 U. S.
203 F.2d 336 reversed.
Page 346 U. S. 390
MR. JUSTICE CLARK delivered the opinion of the Court.
The principal and decisive issue before us is whether there was
a basis in fact for denying Dickinson's claim to a ministerial
exemption under § 6(g) of the Universal Military Training and
Service Act, 62 Stat. 611, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 456(g). [Footnote 1
] After the selective service
authorities denied his claim, Dickinson refused to submit to
induction in defiance of his local board's induction order. For
this refusal he was convicted, in the United States District Court
for the Northern District of California, [Footnote 2
] of violating § 12(a) [Footnote 3
] of the Act. The Court of Appeals for
the Ninth Circuit affirmed the conviction. 203 F.2d 336. We granted
certiorari. 345 U.S. 991=.
Section 6(g) is the source of the ministerial exemption. It
provides, in pertinent part, that
"Regular or duly ordained ministers of religion, as defined in
this title, . . . shall be exempt from training and service (but
not from registration) under this title."
Page 346 U. S. 391
16(g) embodies Congress' definition of a "regular or duly
ordained minister of religion."
"(1) The term 'duly ordained minister of religion' means a
person who has been ordained, in accordance with the ceremonial,
ritual, or discipline of a church, religious sect, or organization
established on the basis of a community of faith and belief,
doctrines, and practices of a religious character, to preach and to
teach the doctrines of such church, sect, or organization, and to
administer the rites and ceremonies thereof in public worship, and
who, as his regular and customary vocation, preaches and teaches
the principles of religion and administers the ordinances of public
worship as embodied in the creed or principles of such church,
sect, or organization."
"(2) The term 'regular minister of religion' means one who, as
his customary vocation, preaches and teaches the principles of
religion of a church, a religious sect, or organization of which he
is a member, without having been formally ordained as a minister of
religion, and who is recognized by such church, sect, or
organization as a regular minister."
"(3) The term 'regular or duly ordained minister of religion'
does not include a person who irregularly or incidentally preaches
and teaches the principles of religion of a church, religious sect,
or organization, and does not include any person who may have been
duly ordained a minister in accordance with the ceremonial, rite,
or discipline of a church, religious sect or organization, but who
does not regularly, as a vocation, teach and preach the principles
of religion and administer the ordinances of public worship as
embodied in the creed or principles of his church, sect, or
Page 346 U. S. 392
Registrants who satisfy this definition are entitled to be
classified IV-D. 32 C.F.R. § 1622.43. [Footnote 4
Dickinson, a Jehovah's Witness, originally claimed IV-D in 1948,
shortly after he registered under the Act. At that time, he stated,
in his classification questionnaire, that he was a "regular," but
not an ordained, minister, and was working 40 hours a week as a
radio repairman. From other documents submitted to the board, it
appeared that he devoted an uncertain number of hours a week
leading two Bible study groups and "several hours each week"
preaching to the public. On these facts, he was classified I-A in
July, 1950. The validity of this classification is not at
What is at issue is the decision of Dickinson's local board to
continue him in I-A in September, 1950 ,after he requested
reclassification based on changed conditions in his vocation
occurring subsequent to the filing of his questionnaire in 1948.
Through his sworn testimony at a personal appearance before the
board and subsequent letters to the selective service authorities,
and through the affidavit of one C. David Easter, a"supervisor" for
the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in the San Francisco area,
supplemented by three letters from the Society itself, Dickinson
established the following uncontradicted facts.
In the Spring of 1949, Dickinson voluntarily left his
40-hour-a-week job as a radio repairman and was baptized, the mark
of ordination to Jehovah's Witnesses. In August, 1949, he was
enrolled by national headquarters of the Watchtower Bible and Tract
Society and began his work as a full-time "pioneer" minister,
devoting 150 hours each month to religious efforts. This shift in
Dickinson's activities occurred after February, 1949,
Page 346 U. S. 393
when selection under the Act was at a standstill, regular
inductions having been halted. [Footnote 5
] As of January, 1950, Dickinson changed his
residence in order to assume the role of "Company Servant" or
presiding minister of the Coalinga, California, "Company," which
encompassed a 5,400-square-mile area. At that time, he dedicated
approximately 100 hours each month to actual pioneer missionary
work-delivering public sermons, door-to-door preaching, conducting
home Bible studies. In the remaining 50 hours devoted to religious
activities each month, Dickinson studied, planned sermons and
discourses, and wrote letters connected with his work. A
substantial portion of this time was spent conducting three to four
meetings each week of the "Company" or congregation at a public
hall in Coalinga. Dickinson arranged for and presided over these
meetings, usually delivering discourses at them. He also instructed
prospective ministers in the proper delivery of sermons at the
"Company's" Theocratic Ministry School. Dickinson received no
salary for his missionary or company servant work. He lived on $35
a month earned by a weekly average of five hours of radio repair
work. This modest income, a low $15-17.50 a month rental for an
apartment, self-performance of household tasks, and invitations to
various private homes enabled Dickinson to subsist.
Despite this uncontroverted evidence of marked change in
Dickinson's activities, the local board continued him in I-A. This
ruling was affirmed by the state and national appeal boards, and he
was ordered to report for induction on July 16, 1951. Dickinson
reported to the
Page 346 U. S. 394
induction center, but refused to submit to induction. His
indictment and conviction followed.
At the outset, it is important to underline an elemental feature
of this case. The Universal Military Training and Service Act does
not permit direct judicial review of selective service
classification orders. Rather, the Act provides, as did the 1917
and 1940 conscription Acts before it, [Footnote 6
] that classification orders by selective
service authorities shall be "final." However, in Estep v.
United States, 327 U. S. 114
327 U. S.
-123 (1946), a case arising under the 1940 Act, this
"The provision making the decisions of the local boards 'final'
means to us that Congress chose not to give administrative action
under this Act the customary scope of judicial review which obtains
under other statutes. It means that the courts are not to weigh the
evidence to determine whether the classification made by the local
boards was justified. The decisions of the local boards made in
conformity with the regulations are final even though they may be
erroneous. The question of jurisdiction of the local board is
reached only if there is no basis, in fact, for the classification
which it gave the registrant."
The ministerial exemption, as was pointed out in the Senate
Report accompanying the 1948 Act, "is a narrow one, intended for
the leaders of the various religious faiths, and not for the
members generally." S.Rep. No. 1268, 80th Cong., 2d Sess. 13.
Certainly all members of a religious organization or sect are not
entitled to the exemption by reason of their membership, even
though, in their belief, each is a minister. Cf. Cox v. United
States, 332 U. S. 442
(1947). On the other hand, a legitimate minister cannot be, for the
purposes of the Act, unfrocked simply because all the members of
his sect base an exemption claim on the dogma of its faith. That
Page 346 U. S. 395
leave a congregation without a cleric. Each registrant must
satisfy the Act's rigid criteria for the exemption. Preaching and
teaching the principles of one's sect, if performed part-time or
half-time, occasionally or irregularly, are insufficient to bring a
registrant under § 6(g). These activities must be regularly
performed. They must, as the statute reads, comprise the
registrant's "vocation." And since the ministerial exemption is a
matter of legislative grace, the selective service registrant bears
the burden of clearly establishing a right to the exemption.
We think Dickinson made out a case which meets the statutory
criteria. He was ordained in accordance with the ritual of his sect
and, according to the evidence here, he meets the vital test of
regularly, as a vocation, teaching and preaching the principles of
his sect and conducting public worship in the tradition of his
religion. That the ordination, doctrines, or manner of preaching
that his sect employs diverge from the orthodox and traditional is
no concern of ours; of course, the statute does not purport to
impose a test of orthodoxy.
Why, then, was Dickinson denied IV-D? It may be argued that his
five hours a week as a radio repairman supplied a factual basis for
the denial. We think not. The statutory definition of a "regular or
duly ordained minister" does not preclude all secular employment.
Many preachers, including those in the more traditional and
orthodox sects, may not be blessed with congregations or parishes
capable of paying them a living wage. A statutory ban on all
secular work would mete out draft exemptions with an uneven hand,
to the detriment of those who minister to the poor, and thus need
some secular work in order to survive. To hold that one who
supports himself by five hours of secular work each week may
Page 346 U. S. 396
thereby lose an exemption to which he is otherwise entitled,
would be to achieve a result that Congress so wisely avoided.
The court below, in affirming the conviction, apparently thought
the local board was free to disbelieve Dickinson's testimonial and
documentary evidence even in the absence of any impeaching or
contradictory evidence. The court manifested its own skepticism by
pointing to Dickinson's youth, the unorthodox method of ordination
by baptism, the failure to present stronger documentary evidence
from Watchtower Society leaders, and the customary claim of
Jehovah's Witnesses to ministerial exemptions. However, Dickinson's
claims were not disputed by any evidence presented to the selective
service authorities, nor was any cited by the Court of Appeals. The
task of the courts in cases such as this is to search the record
for some affirmative evidence to support the local board's overt or
implicit finding that a registrant has not painted a complete or
accurate picture of his activities. We have found none here.
Local boards are not courts of law, and are not bound by
traditional rules of evidence; they are given great leeway in
hearing and considering a variety of material as evidence.
] If the facts are
disputed, the board bears the ultimate responsibility for resolving
the conflict -- the courts will not interfere. Nor will the courts
apply a test of"substantial evidence." However, the courts may
properly insist that there be some proof that is incompatible with
the registrant's proof of exemption. The local board may question a
registrant under oath, subpoena witnesses to testify, and require
both registrant and witnesses to produce documents. 32 C.F.R. §
1621.15. The board is authorized to obtain information
Page 346 U. S. 397
from local, state, and national welfare and governmental
agencies. 32 C.F.R. § 1621.14. The registrant's admissions,
testimony of other witnesses, frequently unsolicited evidence from
a registrant's neighbors, or information obtained from other
agencies may produce dissidence which the boards are free to
resolve. Absent such admissions or other evidence, the local boards
may call on the investigative agencies of the federal government,
as they would if a registrant were suspected of perjury. But when
the uncontroverted evidence supporting a registrant's claim places
him prima facie
within the statutory exemption, dismissal
of the claim solely on the basis of suspicion and speculation is
both contrary to the spirit of the Act and foreign to our concepts
The title was changed from the "selective Service Act of 1948"
to the "Universal Military Training and Service Act" by 65 Stat.
Petitioner waived trial by jury in accordance with Rule 23 of
the Rules of Criminal Procedure.
"[A]ny . . . person . . . who . . . refuses . . . service in the
armed forces . . . or who in any manner shall knowingly fail or
neglect or refuse to perform any duty required of him under or in
the execution of this title, or rules, regulations, or directions
made pursuant to this title . . . shall, upon conviction in any
district court of the United States of competent jurisdiction, be
punished by imprisonment for not more than five years or a fine of
not more than $10,000, or by both such fine and imprisonment. . .
Dickinson was sentenced to two years' imprisonment.
Formerly, this regulation was numbered § 1622.19, 32 C.F.R. §
Regular inductions resumed in August, 1950. Annual Report of the
Director of Selective Service 90 (1952). Since induction was not an
immediate threat when Dickinson changed his activities, the change
itself would hardly show bad faith, if that were an issue. However,
bad faith is not at issue in cases such as this.
40 Stat. 80 (1917), 54 Stat. 893 (1940).
32 C.F.R. § 1622.1(c).
32 C.F.R. § 1622.1(c). See Lehr v. United States,
F.2d 919, 922 (1944).
MR. JUSTICE JACKSON, whom MR. JUSTICE BURTON and MR. JUSTICE
MINTON join, dissenting.
This Court held in Estep v. United States, 327 U.
, that, in a criminal prosecution under § 11 of
the Selective Service Act, the court must allow the registrant to
prove that his local draft board acted without jurisdiction in
classifying him for service. The Court cited several examples of a
board's acting without jurisdiction, such as where a Pennsylvania
board orders a citizen and resident of Oregon to report for
induction, or where a board bases classification on the
registrant's color or creed in direct defiance of the applicable
regulations. But the Court then made this statement: "The question
of jurisdiction of the local board is reached only if there is
no basis in fact
for the classification which it gave the
registrant." (Emphasis added.) The import was that a local board
loses jurisdiction if there are insufficient facts in the record to
support its conclusion. The ramifications of such a theory were not
explored at the time, and have not
Page 346 U. S. 398
been clarified by subsequent decisions. [Footnote 2/1
] But the majority opinion today squarely
poses the question of whether such a theory has a place in the
statutory scheme of the Selective Service Act.
When he registered for service in September, 1948, petitioner
was 18 years old, and claimed to have been a minister of religion
of the Jehovah's Witnesses for some 15 months. He had not been
ordained. He had been trained as a radio engineer, still supported
himself by doing radio repair work at night, and worked at this job
about 40 hours a week. He conducted two religious meetings a week,
each lasting an hour, and he occasionally spoke at other meetings.
He also made house-to-house calls. He had prepared for the
ministry, he said, by reading the Bible and other texts published
by the Jehovah's Witnesses and by taking a course. After he filed
his classification questionnaire, petitioner gave up his radio
repair work and was ordained by baptism. He was purportedly in
charge of missionary work "in a 5,400 square mile section of
territory." These events on the eve of his classification and in
view of his youth may have raised doubt as to his good faith. The
local board and the Appeals Board, without citing their reasons,
placed petitioner in Class I-A.
No allegation has been made that the local board or the Appeals
Board acted fraudulently or maliciously in this matter. The only
logical assumption from the classification is that the boards
disbelieved part of petitioner's testimony or doubted his good
faith in taking up religious work at the particular time he did.
The record itself raises some suspicions, and petitioner's
Page 346 U. S. 399
before the local board may well have confirmed these
The problem inherent in Estep
and raised by the
majority opinion today is what is required of the board under such
circumstances? It will not do for the Court as in Estep
say, on the one hand, that the board's action is not subject to
"the customary scope of judicial review," and that "the courts are
not to weigh the evidence," and then, on the other, to strike down
a classification because no affirmative evidence supporting the
board's conclusion appears in the record. Under today's decision,
it is not sufficient that the board disbelieve the registrant. The
board must find and record affirmative evidence that he has
misrepresented his case -- evidence which is then put to the test
of substantiality by the courts. In short, the board must build a
There is nothing in the Act which requires this result.
] To the contrary, the
whole tenor of the Act is that the factual question of whether the
registrant is entitled to the claimed exemption shall be left
entirely in the hands of the board. The philosophy of the Act is
that the obligations and privileges of serving in the armed forces
should be shared generally, in accordance with a system of
selection which is fair and just. 62 Stat. 604, 50 U.S.C.Appendix,
§§ 451-471. To that end, it decrees,
"Except as otherwise provided in this title, every male citizen
of the United States . . . who is between the ages of nineteen and
twenty-six . . . shall be liable for training and
Page 346 U. S. 400
service in the armed forces. . . ."
62 Stat. 605, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 454(a). The Act then sets up
several deferments and exemptions including that claimed here. It
is the usual rule that he who claims the benefit of exceptions in a
statute carries the burden of establishing that he is entitled to
them. And the decisions of the board on these matters are made
"final" by the Act, except where an appeal is authorized. 62 Stat.
620, 50 U.S.C.Appendix, § 460(b)(3).
Even when we all interpret "final" so as to allow judicial
review of the board's jurisdiction, it does not follow that
jurisdiction may be lost through a lack of evidence. Despite the
comment in Estep
that the board's action is not subject to
ordinary review, the Court continues to examine and weigh these
purely factual determinations.
Perhaps what bothers the Court is that, when no evidence is
introduced against a registrant and the board fails to state its
reasons for acting, there is no practical way for the trial court
to determine whether the correct statutory standard has been
applied. We freely admit the difficulty. However, it is one which
the Court should face, rather than avoid. Since the record in this
case would look the same whether the board acted fraudulently, with
a misconception of the law, or in good faith, how is the trial
court to proceed in determining the board's jurisdiction? The
board, through silence, makes the registrant's task of proving lack
of jurisdiction next to impossible.
We think the Act nevertheless requires that, in the absence of
affirmative proof by the registrant that the board has misconstrued
the law or acted arbitrarily, the board's decisions are final, and
not subject to judicial scrutiny. Whether there is sufficient
evidence to grant the exemption is to be left wholly with the
board. The Court does not sit here to weigh the evidence. All
factual questions are for the board, and its decision is final. The
Page 346 U. S. 401
may not set aside the board's finding because the Court might
have reached a different conclusion. If it is said that this puts
an awesome power in the hands of the selective service authorities,
we can only reply that conscription is an awesome business.
Congress must have weighed this fact when it passed the Act. It
must also have realized that to allow each registrant who is denied
exemption a trial on the facts would be to place an impossible
block in the way of conscription.
Eagles v. United States ex rel. Samuels, 329 U.
, 329 U. S.
-317; Gibson v. United States, 329 U.
; Sunal v. Large, 332 U.
, 332 U. S. 176
Cox v. United States, 332 U. S. 442
332 U. S. 448
332 U. S.
The regulations require the local board to place in the
registrant's file for appeal a summary of outside information which
was considered by the board. 32 CFR, 1952 Cum.Supp., § 1626.13. We
do not interpret this to mean that the board must take the
affirmative in securing such information, or that nonevidentiary
factors which influenced the board need be summarized, or that, in
any case, these summaries are subject to evaluation by the