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Shaffer v. Schlesinger

decided as amended february 23 1976.: February 3, 1976.

MICHAEL B. SHAFFER, APPELLANT,
v.
HON. JAMES R. SCHLESINGER, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE; HON. HOWARD CALLOWAY, SECRETARY OF THE ARMY; GEN. THOMAS GREER, COMMANDING OFFICER, FORT DIX, NEW JERSEY, APPELLEES



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (D.C. Civil Action No. 75-129).

Aldisert, Hunter and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hunter

Opinion OF THE COURT

HUNTER, Circuit Judge:

Michael B. Shaffer, a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army, sought a writ of habeas corpus to effect his discharge on the ground that he was a conscientious objector. Petitioner had sought the writ after his claim for conscientious objector status had been denied by the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board ("Board"). The district court, concluding that there was a basis in fact to support the Board's determination that petitioner's beliefs were not sincerely held, dismissed the writ. From our review of the record, we are satisfied that the Board's decision had no basis in fact, and accordingly, we reverse.

I

From 1960 to 1964, while an undergraduate, petitioner was a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps ("ROTC"). Thereafter, petitioner pursued graduate studies, during which he continued to be a member of the ROTC. In 1967, he was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army Reserve. Petitioner subsequently applied for and received a deferment to postpone active duty from July 1, 1967 until April 6, 1970 in order to study for a degree in law. Apparently, petitioner ceased his law school studies after the first week of classes. He did not inform the Army of his change in status until the spring of 1969.

On April 15, 1970, petitioner entered on active duty in the United States Army and was stationed at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. On May 12, 1970, he notified his commanding officer of his intention to apply for a discharge as a conscientious objector. Petitioner subsequently filed his application for discharge on May 25, 1970.

In his application for discharge, petitioner stated that his religious beliefs compelled him to regard participation in all war as immoral; that the "taking of human life is morally wrong and is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ." App. at 19a.*fn1 Petitioner had been raised in the Catholic faith and he stated that his religious beliefs derived from his Catholic background and education. He also stated that his beliefs were influenced by his parents, an encounter group, a visit to the Middle East and a meditation class he had attended. According to petitioner, when he received his commission in 1967 he had "misgivings about accepting it while the war in Vietnam continued" but he did not consider himself to be a conscientious objector. App. at 21a. He had been moving toward a "pacifist position" for some time, but it was not until beginning active duty that he realized he was opposed to all war. He was "torn between [his] obligation to country and a desire to remain true to [his] convictions." After coming on active duty, he "realized that to be consistent to [himself] and [his] religious beliefs [he] could not participate in the military at all." Id. at 23a.*fn2 Thirteen letters of recommendation were appended to petitioner's application attesting to petitioner's religious beliefs and sincerity.

Pursuant to Army Regulation 635-20, petitioner was interviewed by a chaplain, a psychiatrist, and an officer of at least grade 0-3 experienced in conscientious objection applications. The chaplain found petitioner to be sincere in his religious beliefs but did not state reasons to support this conclusion. Petitioner was found to be free from mental distrubance by the psychiatrist. Lieutenant Colonel Howard interviewed petitioner twice and concluded that petitioner was "totally insincere, his professions of religious pacifism [had] no real substance, and he [was] making application for a discharge as a conscientious objector solely for his own personal gain." App.at 47a. Lt. Col. Howard reached this conclusion because petitioner had admitted he enrolled in graduate school "more or less" to avoid active duty, because he failed to attend law school classes without notifying the military of his change in status and because his beliefs had been influenced by a pacifist encounter group. Petitioner was also interviewed by Major Phillip Custer, petitioner's student supervisor, who found petitioner to be insincere because he had voluntarily participated in the ROTC, because his beliefs had matured in only one month of military service and because they represented a complete reversal from his upbringing as the son and grandson of professional military officers.

Thereafter, petitioner's application was forwarded to Colonel Sinko, Secretary at Fort Belvoir. Col. Sinko did not interview petitioner but did study his application and recommended that the application be denied. The application was then forwarded to Brigadier General Hunt, Assistant Commandant of Fort Belvoir, and to Major General Gribble, Post Commander and Commandant, neither of whom interviewed petitioner. Both Gen. Hunt and Maj. Gen. Gribble recommended disapproval without stating reasons for their recommendations. These negative recommendations were submitted without petitioner's knowledge.

On June 17, 1970, the Army Conscientious Objector Review Board denied petitioner conscientious objector status on the sole ground that he did not sincerely hold the views he professed in his application. The Board did not interview petitioner but based its conclusion on the reports and recommendations of Lt. Col. Howard, Maj. Custer, Col. Sinko, Brig. Gen. Hunt and Maj. Gen. Gribble. On January 27, 1975,*fn3 petitioner commenced the instant action in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, which denied Shaffer's petition because it found a basis in fact to support the Board's determination of insincerity.

II

Our standard of review of the conscientious objector claims of active military personnel, as in the case of preinduction conscientious objector claims presented to local draft boards, is the narrow one of whether there is a basis in fact for the military's finding that an applicant has not presented a valid conscientious objector claim. Smith v. Laird, 486 F.2d 307, 309 (10th Cir. 1973); United States ex rel. Checkman v. Laird, 469 F.2d 773, 778 (2d Cir. 1972); see United States v. Seeger, 38 ...


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