The Universal Military
Training and Service Act established
a draft for all men in the US. However there was an exemption (§6(j)), for 'conscientious objectors'.
were defined in §6(j) as persons
who by reason of their religious training and belief are conscientiously
opposed to participation in war in any form.
'Religious training and
belief' is defined as "an individual's belief in a relation to a
Supreme Being involved in duties superior to those arising from any
human relation, but not including essentially political sociological, or
philosophical views or merely a personal moral code."
Seeger was drafted and refused
to go, claiming that he was a conscientious objector. He was arrested.
Instead of professing a
belief in a Supreme Being, Seeger claimed that he had a "belief in
goodness and virtue for their own sakes, and a religious faith in a
purely ethical creed."
The Trial Court convicted
Seeger of draft-dodging. He appealed.
Seeger claimed that §6(j) was unconstitutional, since it only allowed
exemptions for people who believed in a Supreme Being, and so was a
violation of the 1st Amendment's right of free exercise of religious belief.
The Appellate Court reversed.
The government appealed.
The US Supreme Court affirmed
the Appellate Court.
The US Supreme Court found
that a person can meet the requirements of being a conscientious objector
even if they have unorthodox spiritual beliefs, as long as those beliefs
are fundamentally equivalent to a traditional belief in God.
The Court found that the
proper test of religious belief should be "whether a given belief
that is sincere and meaningful occupies a place in the life of its
possessor parallel to that filled by the orthodox beliefs in God of one
who clearly qualifies for the conscientious objector exemption."
The Court noted that §6(j) can still require that that a person seeking
exemption prove both that his beliefs prohibit him from participating in
war, and that these beliefs are strong and sincere.
This case is notable for being
one of the few times that the US Supreme Court has attempted to define the
term 'religion' in relation to the 1st Amendment.