Sicurella v. United States,
348 U.S. 385 (1955)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Sicurella v. United States, 348 U.S. 385 (1955)

Sicurella v. United States

No. 250

Argued February 1, 1955

Decided March 14, 1955

348 U.S. 385


Petitioner, a member of Jehovah's Witnesses, was denied classification as a conscientious objector under § 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act. He appealed. After the usual investigation, the Department of Justice admitted his sincerity, but recommended to the Appeal Board that classification as a conscientious objector be denied on the ground that he was not entitled to exemption because he had indicated his willingness to fight in defense of "his ministry, Kingdom Interests, and . . . his fellow brethren." The Appeal Board denied petitioner classification as a conscientious objector, and he was convicted of failing to submit to induction under § 12(a) of the Act.

Held: the recommendation of the Department of Justice was based on an error of law, and the conviction is reversed. Pp. 348 U. S. 386-392.

(a) In view of petitioner's emphasis throughout his selective service form that the weapons of his warfare were spiritual, not carnal, his willingness to use force in defense of Kingdom Interests and brethren is not sufficiently inconsistent with his claim to justify the conclusion that he fell short of being a conscientious objector to "participation in war in any form" within the meaning of § 6(j). Pp. 348 U. S. 389-390.

(b) By relating a registrant's conscientious objection to his religious training and belief, Congress has made the beliefs of his religious sect relevant, but it was erroneous as a matter of law to deny a member of Jehovah's Witnesses exemption as a conscientious objector merely because members of that sect are ready to engage in a "theocratic war," if Jehovah so commands, and willing to fight at Armageddon with spiritual, not carnal, weapons. Pp. 348 U. S. 390-391.

(c) When Congress referred to participation in war in any form, it had in mind actual military conflicts between nations of the earth in our time. P. 348 U. S. 391.

(d) If a registrant has the requisite conscientious objection, on religious grounds, to participation in war in any form, he does not forfeit his rights under § 6(j) because his other beliefs may extend beyond the exemption granted by Congress. P. 348 U. S. 391.

Page 348 U. S. 386

(e) The Department of Justice's error of law in its report to the Appeal Board must vitiate the entire proceedings, since it is not clear that the Board relied on some legitimate ground in denying petitioner's classification as a conscientious objector. Pp. 348 U. S. 391-392.

213 F.2d 911 reversed.

Petitioner was convicted of failing to submit to induction into the armed forces in violation of § 12(a) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act. The Court of Appeals affirmed. 213 F.2d 911. This Court granted certiorari. 348 U.S. 812. Reversed, p. 348 U. S. 392.

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