A Navy officer at the Groton submarine base filed a writ of habeas corpus last week, saying the Navy refused to honorably discharge him as a conscientious objector because he was unable to recite the 10 Commandments and did not believe some sins are worse than others.
In the time since graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy in 2008, Michael Izbicki realized military service, in any form, conflicts with his beliefs as a Quaker and, after he was twice denied conscientious objector status from the Navy, the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut filed a writ of habeas corpus in federal court on his behalf.
Izbicki has submitted two applications to the Navy to be honorably discharged from the service on the grounds that aiding in war, even as non-combatant, can not be reconciled with his deeply held religious beliefs.
Applying to become a conscientious objector is a very personal and difficult process, according to Deborah Karpatkin, one of the lawyers representing him.
“People believe all sorts of things for all sorts of reasons,” she said in a phone interview, “most of us have never had to put those reasons in writing.”
Izbicki began to doubt his chosen profession after becoming a naval officer during a period of comprehensive religious study, the petition said. During a psychological exam required by the Navy for officers training to serve on nuclear submarines, Izbicki responded to a question by indicating that he could not launch a nuclear missile.
The 82-page petition details the evolution of Izbicki’s religious beliefs as they formed alongside his military training, eventually reaching a point when they could no longer be reconciled.
Izbicki was raised in a moderately religious family with a history of military service and he felt compelled to join the military after Sept. 11, 2001, the petition said. In high school he was religiously “saved,” the petition said, but at that point he still believed in the concept of a “just war.”
His conviction that he cannot serve in the military in any capacity seems to stem, at least in part, from his literal understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, where, among other things, Jesus is said to have established the commonly accepted Christian doctrine of “turn the other cheek.”
In one of his conscientious objector applications Izbicki wrote, “I believe that Jesus Christ calls all men to love each other, under all circumstances. I believe his teaching forbids the use of violence. I take the sermon on the mount literally.”
Izbicki has even said that he would comply with whatever monetary demands the Navy may have to pay for the education he received, Karpatkin said.
But despite following the Navy’s legal guidelines and regulations to become a conscientious objector, Izbicki has been denied the status twice in a process the ACLU has called “rife with legal, factual and procedural errors.”
According to the lawsuit, in the hearings that led to the denial of Izbicki’s applications an investigating officer asserted that Quakerism is not a Christian religion and likened it to a “Jim Jones-like cult.”
Investigators also held Izbicki to standards not written in Navy regulations like whether or not his status as conscientious objector would reduce or eliminate sin and whether he had completed enough “service” to others and the Navy, the petition said.
The investigating officer also judged Izbicki on other standards the ACLU found inappropriate including his ability to recite the ten commandments, his ownership of disassembled components of a firearm, and whether he deemed some sins worse than others, the petition said.
“The investigating officer’s own beliefs should not be relevant,” Karpatkin said, noting that as part of the process Izbicki was required to speak with several religious officials who also assessed his beliefs.
“All the theologians and ministers, both Navy and civilian, have found his religious beliefs sincere and deeply held,” she said.
And the ministers quoted in the lawsuit support her statement and largely convey an opinion that Izbicki arrived at his current predicament honestly and intelligently. One minister, Bernard Wilson, a retired Navy Chaplin said this about him:
“I believe Michael took seriously the Naval Academy instruction to its students that an officer should explore a question to the limits of his or her ability and then say what he or she believes to be true. For Michael, the truth is that he cannot participate in any war and is a conscientious objector.”
Karpatkin said she’s hoping a civilian judge will look at the case and see that Izbicki meets all the written qualifications for conscientious objector status. So far the Navy has not responded to the petition, she said.
For the time being Izbicki has moved to a more supportive role as he waits for his professional future to be sorted out in federal court, Karpatkin said. He is currently living at an “intentional pacifist” Christian community in New London, an ACLU statement said.