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Seeger, United States v. 380 U.S. 163 (1965)

SEEGER, UNITED STATES v. 380 U.S. 163 (1965)

At issue in the Seeger case was Section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act. Originally enacted in 1940, the act exempted those who, as a matter of "religious training and belief," were opposed to participation in a war. In 1948, Congress amended this provision and defined religious belief 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.…"

Despite the textual evidence of a congressional intent to condition exemption on the theistic belief, Justice tom c. clark, for the Supreme Court, interpreted the provision as requiring only a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the belief in God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption. Seeger had argued that if section 6(j) granted exemptions only on the basis of conventional theistic belief, it amounted to an establishment of religion. Facing the unattractive alternatives of finding section 6(j) unconstitutional or reading it in a sufficiently broad fashion so as to secularize the exemption, the majority chose the latter.

Richard E. Morgan

(see also: Conscientious Objection.)

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