A naval officer whose petition to be recognized as a conscientious objector (CO) was initially denied has been granted CO status and has been honorably discharged from the United States Navy. The Navy's acknowledgement that Michael Izbicki's Christian convictions preclude his participation in war in all forms came after the ACLU of Connecticut and two cooperating attorneys filed a habeus corpus petition on his behalf in federal court in November 2010. Izbicki had been an ensign stationed in Groton.

"We are pleased that the Navy has now followed Federal law and military regulations and respected Michael Izbicki's sincere and deeply held religious beliefs," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU-CT. "This victory for religious freedom demonstrates that conscientious objector status must be taken seriously."

Michael Izbicki's realization that he could not reconcile his religious beliefs with his Navy service came well after his graduation from the Naval Academy, when he had begun submarine training. He responded to a question in a required psychological exam that he could not launch a nuclear missile. The response came from his religious beliefs, and his growing doubts about whether as a Christian he could participate in war and take another's life. Through a period of intense religious study and reflection, supported by military and civilian chaplains and his own rigorous reading and prayer, Izbicki concluded that he was a conscientious objector and had no choice, because of his religious beliefs, but to give up the career to which he had aspired and for which he had trained, and to seek honorable discharge from the Navy.

Michael Izbicki filed two applications for discharge from the Navy as a conscientious objector, but the Navy denied both applications, even though he met all legal and regulatory requirements. Izbicki's request for CO status was supported by two Navy chaplains, a retired Navy chaplain, two civilian ordained clergy, and the clerk of the Westerly Quaker Meeting, all of whom affirmed the depth and sincerity of his religious opposition to participation in any form of war. The CO hearings conducted by the Navy, the ACLU asserted, were rife with legal, factual and procedural errors. Displaying a lack of knowledge about Quaker worship and belief, the Navy's investigating officer stated during the hearing that Quakers do not believe in Jesus Christ, and even likened the Quakers to a Jim Jones-like cult.

The ACLU argued in the habeas petition that the Navy’s denials had to be reversed by the Court because there was no basis in fact upon which the Navy could deny Izbicki’s assertion that his beliefs opposing participation in war were sincere and deeply held. After the ACLU’s November 2010 filing in federal court, the Navy reconsidered, “superseded” its prior denials, and granted Izbicki’s request for recognition at a CO. Izbicki has now been honorably discharged. The Navy’s discharge orders state that arrangements will be made for recoupment of the prorated costs of his advanced education, something Izbicki has steadfastly made clear, throughout the CO process, that he is willing to do.

“It should not have taken the filing of a federal lawsuit for the Navy to recognize Michael Izbicki as a sincere conscientious objector, consistent with law and its own regulations. All of the facts in the lawsuit were presented to the Navy by Michael Izbicki before the filing of the lawsuit,” Deborah H. Karpatkin, a cooperating attorney from New York on the case said. “The Navy has finally looked properly at the entire record in this case and now correctly recognized that Michael Izbicki is a sincere conscientious objector based on his religious beliefs against participation in war in any form.”

Michael Izbicki says he looks forward to being free of the conflict between his religious beliefs and his work, which he says he experienced daily and continuously while his Navy service continued. He intends to continue his dedication to public service, using his Navy-acquired knowledge and skills for peace. “I’m relieved the Navy recognized that my religious beliefs made it impossible for me to serve in the Navy,” Izbicki said. “I look forward to serving my country in some peaceful capacity”

“I am very gratified that with the cooperation of the ACLU-CT and members of diverse faith communities -- Episcopal, Quaker, Catholic, Jewish, United Church of Christ, among others--Michael was able to receive the legal and spiritual support he needed to withstand the rigors of the conscientious objector process and to achieve the Navy’s recognition of his beliefs,” said Vera Scanlon, a cooperating attorney from New York. “The ACLU-CT’s defense of his right to religious freedom, and Michael’s courage in filing the habeas petition, help remind us all of the importance of access to civilian courts for conscientious objectors and others whose religious freedoms are threatened by government action.”

In addition to Karpatkin and Scanlon, a partner in Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP, Izbicki's legal team included Sandra J. Staub, legal director of the ACLU-CT, and David J. McGuire, staff attorney.

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