United States v. Seeger
Decided Mar. 8, 1965, 380 US 163


I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Freedom of religion, conscientious objection

B. Legal Question Presented:

Does Section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, which defines the term "religious training and belief," as used in the Act, as "an individual's belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but [not including] essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code," discriminate between different forms of religious expression in violation?
II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

Three separate cases were consolidated in this case. US v. Seeger (Case No. 50), US v. Jakobson (Case No. 51) were on review from the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and Peter v. US (Case No. 29) from the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act of 1958 offered an exemption from military service for conscientious objectors, provided that their belief in a Supreme Being requires duties that are superior to those arising from commands of any human relation. 

1) Seeger believed that "the cosmic order does, perhaps, suggest a creative intelligence" and he criticized the tremendous "spiritual" price man must pay for his willingness to destroy human life. He was convicted in the District Court for the Southern District of New York for refusing to register in the Armed Forces. His conviction was reversed by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

2) Jakobson believed in a "Supreme Being" who created mankind, and in a "Supreme Reality" which resulted in the existence of mankind. He was similarly convicted, and his conviction reversed by the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. 

3) Peter, although not sure of his belief in a "Supreme Being," stated that there was "some power manifest in nature ... the supreme expression" that helps man in ordering his life. He was convicted in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and his conviction was affirmed by the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. 

On certiorari the Supreme Court found that the beliefs of the objectors in these three cases met the criteria of section 6(j) and affirmed the judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in Nos. 50 and 51 and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in No. 29.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Unavailable Unavailable
III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance in Nos. 50 and 51 and reversal in No. 29, were filed by Alfred Lawrence Toombs and Melvin L. Wulf for the American Civil Liberties Union, and by Leo Pfeffer, Shad Polier, Will Maslow and Joseph B. Robison for the American Jewish Congress. Briefs of amici curiae, urging affirmance in No. 50, were filed by Herbert A. Wolff, Leo Rosen, Nanette Dembitz and Nancy F. Wechsler for the American Ethical Union, and by Tolbert H. McCarroll, Lester Forest and Paul Blanshard for the American Humanist Association.

Duane B. Beeson argued the cause and filed a brief for petitioner in No. 29. Kenneth W. Greenawalt argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent in No. 50. Herman Adlerstein argued the cause and filed a brief for respondent in No. 51.

Solicitor General Cox argued the cause for the United States in all cases. Assistant Attorney General Miller was with him on the briefs in all cases. Ralph S. Spritzer was with him on the briefs in Nos. 50 and 51, and Marshall Tamor Golding was with him on the briefs in No. 50.


IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The test of religious belief within the meaning of the exemption in 6 (j) is whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption. The exemption does not cover those who oppose war from a merely personal moral code nor those who decide that war is wrong on the basis of essentially political, sociological or economic considerations rather than religious belief.

Local boards and courts are to decide whether the objector's beliefs are sincerely held and whether they are, in his own scheme of things, religious: they are not to require proof of the religious doctrines nor are they to reject beliefs because they are not comprehensible.

Under the broad construction applicable to 6 (j) the applications involved in these cases, none of which was based on merely personal moral codes, qualified for exemption.

The Supreme Court reviewing three cases together affirmed the judgments of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in US v. Seeger (No. 50) and US v. Jakobson (No. 51) and reversed the judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Peter v. US (No. 29).

Justice Vote: 9 Pro vs. 0 Con
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Douglas, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Black, H. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Clark, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Harlan, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Warren, E. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Goldberg, A. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged affirmance in Cases Nos 50 and 51 and reversal in No. 29 of the judgments' of the Court of Appeals for the Second and Ninth Circuits; the Supreme Court affirmed Nos. 50 and 51 and reversed No. 29 in a 9-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.