When a person refuses to participate in war or other hostilities on moral grounds, he or she is a ‘conscientious objector’, or ‘C.O.’. It is not for those who are afraid of being hurt or killed, it is for those who have a moral objection to war, to the use of violence and killing to achieve political goals. The right to refuse is based at least partly on the idea that people should be free to practice their religious beliefs, and most religions support the principle of conscientious objection [although some offer much stronger support than others].
Here in the U.S., the Supreme Court has repeatedly held that religious, moral, ethical, or philosophical grounds all have the same standing. And if someone who is already in the military comes to realize that war is wrong, then he or she is legally entitled to discharge. In the U.S., however, the right to conscientious objection requires that the person object to all war, not a particular war or the way it is being fought. This may well go against the person’s religious beliefs, but that is how the law reads.
A few years ago, the Fellowship Of Reconciliation started a youth campaign called “I Will Not Kill”—a call for an end to violence and warfare around the world, a reminder to young people that they shouldn’t only be concerned about what might happen to them if they go to war—they also need to think about what they would have to do to others. Supporters are asked to take the I Will Not Kill pledge:
- I will not go to war.
- I will not support war against other nations.
- I will resist recruitment into the military.
- I will encourage others to do the same.
There are many organizations that support conscientious objectors and the right to object to participating in war, including:
- American Friends Service Committee [Youth & Militarism Program]
- Center on Conscience and War
- Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors [CCCO]
- Fellowship Of Reconciliation [FOR]
- G.I. Rights Hotline [1-877-447-4487]
- Mennonite Central Committee [MCC]
- National Network Opposed to Militarization of Youth [NNOMY]
- LEPOCO Peace Center
- Veterans For Peace, Lehigh Valley Chapter
Also see Militarism, Militarism in Schools