Naval Officer Seeks Conscientious Objector Discharge

Hartford, CT – The ACLU of Connecticut (ACLU-CT) has filed a petition for habeas corpus in federal court on behalf Michael Izbicki, a Naval officer on active duty at the Groton naval base. The petition challenges the Navy’s refusal to honorably discharge Ensign Izbicki, a conscientious objector (“CO”) whose Christian convictions preclude his participation in war.

Following a family tradition of military service, Michael Izbicki graduated from the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis. His religious beliefs did not begin to conflict with his Navy service until after graduation and he had begun submarine training. Ensign Izbicki responded to a question in a required psychological exam that he could not launch a nuclear missile. Ensign Izbicki’s 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, Ensign Izbicki concluded that he was a conscientious objector and had no choice, because of his religious beliefs, but to give up the career for which he had aspired and trained, and to seek honorable discharge from the Navy.

“The ACLU has long fought for the protection of religious freedom, including the religious freedom of Christian pacifists and other conscientious objectors in the armed forces,” said Andrew Schneider, Executive Director of the ACLU-CT. “Michael Izbicki is entitled to recognition as a conscientious objector because his religious beliefs do not allow him to kill or support the killing of other human beings.”

Ensign Izbicki’s CO beliefs draw from his faith in Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote in his CO application: “I believe that Jesus Christ calls all men to love each other, under all circumstances. I believe his teaching forbids the use of violence. I take the sermon on the mount literally.” Because of his religious beliefs, Ensign Izbicki is opposed to participation in all wars, not only the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Two Navy chaplains, three civilian ordained clergy (two of whom served as Navy chaplains) and two academic theologians have affirmed the depth and sincerity of Ensign Izbicki’s religious opposition to participation in any form of war. Yet the Navy has twice denied Ensign Izbicki’s applications to be discharged as a conscientious objector, after conducting hearings rife with legal, factual and procedural errors. The Navy can deny a conscientious objector only when there is a basis in fact, and the Navy had no valid basis in fact to deny either of the CO applications.

“Michael Izbicki has demonstrated, through two CO applications and hearings, that his religious beliefs against participation in war are sincere and deeply held,” Deborah H. Karpatkin, a cooperating attorney from New York on the case said. “The religious faith tests imposed by the Navy on Michael Izbicki were constitutionally and legally improper and violated military regulations. Michael Izbicki meets all the legal requirements for recognition as a conscientious objector and is entitled to immediate honorable discharge from military service.”

In denying Ensign Izbicki’s CO applications the Navy impermissibly measured the depth and sincerity of his religious beliefs against participation in war against religious standards that resulted in religious bias. For example, the Navy held Ensign Izbicki to the impermissible religious standard of whether his conscientious objector beliefs would “reduce or eliminate sin.” Displaying a lack of knowledge about Quaker worship and belief, the Navy’s Investigating Officer asserted that Quakers do not believe in Jesus Christ, and even likened the Quakers to a Jim Jones-like cult. The Navy rejected Ensign Izbicki’s commitment to and worship with the Westerly, Rhode Island Friends Meeting because the Navy erroneously believed that Ensign Izbicki, as a Christian who believes in Jesus Christ, would not sincerely worship with the Quakers. The Navy rejected Ensign Izbicki’s religious belief in Jesus’ message of peace in the Sermon on the Mount. It relied instead on Pastor Rick Warren’s religious belief that Jesus was not a pacifist, and that the Bible supports participation in war. The application of these religious standards to Ensign Izbicki’s own religious beliefs against participation in war violates the Constitution, applicable law, and military regulation.

Despite the Navy’s rejections, Ensign Izbicki has done as much as he can to live a faith-based life of peace. He makes his home with the intentional pacifist Christian community of St. Francis House in New London, CT. He uses his non-Navy time for work supporting St. Francis House, and for reading and writing about peace-making. He worships weekly with the Westerly Quaker Meeting in Westerly, R.I. He has rejected promotion to higher rank in the Navy, notwithstanding the higher pay and status it would bring him. He is prepared to pay back the Navy for his education, should his conscientious objector discharge be approved.

“The Navy holds itself out as a protector of our constitution, including freedom of religion and conscience; in keeping with this tradition, it should respect the rights of Michael Izbicki, who has found his most fundamental religious beliefs to be in irreconcilable conflict with the Navy’s military mission, and should grant him an honorable discharge,” said Vera Scanlon, a cooperating attorney from New York.

The lawsuit seeks Ensign Izbicki’s honorable discharge from the Navy as a conscientious objector. Federal law and applicable military regulations require the discharge of military personnel who demonstrate that they have become conscientiously opposed to war in any form, that their opposition is founded on religious training and belief, and that their position is sincere and deeply held.

Lawyers on the case include Deborah H. Karpatkin, Vera M. Scanlon of Beldock Levine & Hoffman LLP and Sandra J. Staub and David J. McGuire of the ACLU-CT.

Read the Izbicki Habeus Petition.