United States v. Seeger

Facts of the Case

The court considered three consolidated cases involving claims of conscientious objectors under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, 50 U.S.C.S. § 456(j). In all the cases, convictions were obtained for refusal to submit to induction in the armed forces. The appellate court affirmed the conviction in No. 29 and reversed the convictions in Nos. 50 and 51. The parties raised the basic question of the constitutionality of the section that defined the term religious training and belief, as used in the Act, 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 or a merely personal moral code. The Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the judgments in Nos. 50 and 51 and reversed the judgment in No. 29.


Was the exemption provision unconstitutional for requiring proof of a Supreme Being?


A person can have conscientious objector status based on a belief that has a similar position in that person’s life to the belief in God.In a unanimous decision authored by Justice Clark, the Court ruled that the statute was constitutional. Since there are over 250 religious groups in the United States, the Court reasoned, Congress could not be expected to specifically cover each of them in this federal law. In general, a conscientious objection is based on a religious belief rather than political, sociological, or philosophical views. The term Supreme Being should be interpreted to cover all types of faith, and the defendant’s belief system fell within them, so it qualified for the exemption. However, the statute was held to be constitutional on its face.Justice Douglas concurred.

Case Information

  • Citation: 380 US 163 (1965)
  • Argued: Nov 16 – 17, 1964
  • Decided Mar 8, 1965