United States v. Seeger

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: Planned Parenthood Birth Control Clinic

DECIDED BY: Warren Court (1962-1965)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

CITATION: 380 US 163 (1965)
ARGUED: Nov 16, 1964 / Nov 17, 1964
DECIDED: Mar 08, 1965

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Seeger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 17, 1964 in United States v. Seeger

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 16, 1964 in United States v. Seeger

Warren E. Burger:

Number 50, United States, Petitioner, versus Daniel Andrew Seeger.

Mr. Solicitor General.

Archibald Cox:

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court.

Since the next three cases all involved provisions of the Selective Service Act relating to conscientious objectors, the Court approved in an arrangement between counsel that I should present the Government's opening argument in all three cases in one piece, and at then each of the opposing parties would have an opportunity to reply with respect to his case.

The reason for this is that all three cases do raise basic questions concerning the constitutionality of the provisions, relating to conscientious objector, whereas two of them also present separate questions concerning the interpretation or application of the statute.

I shall argue the Seeger case first and devote the great bulk of my time to it, because it does present the basic constitutional issue, which is the one with which we are the most concerned.

The Universal Military Training and Service Act provides as we all know, for drafting young men into the armed forces as needed for national defense.

Generally speaking, the obligation is universal, although the provisions for deferment of those who are engaged in vital occupations.

Section 6 (j) of the Act provides for special treatment of a defined class imprecisely and I may say misleadingly known as conscientious objectors.

Conscientious objectors as defined in Section 6 (j) are not exempt from National Service.

They are subject either to service and noncombatant capacities or to other important National Service as determined by local draft boards under regulations issued by the President.

Those who are not subject to combatant service are defined in Section 6 (j).

The relevant portions of which are printed on page two of the Government's brief in the Seeger case, Number 50 in the fattest of the briefs.

It provides for an exemption from combatant training and service of anyone who by reason of religious training and belief is conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form.

And then it goes on to define what is meant by the belief part of religious training and belief.

And it means, the statute says, an individual's belief, in relation to a Supreme Being, involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophically views or merely personal moral code.

The affirmative part of definition could be read doubtless with emphasis upon Supreme Being so as to require something which perhaps I might best describe as a fundamentalist god.

We adopt a more liberal interpretation, having in mind not only the diversity of religions in this country, but also the fact that such eminent theologians such as Professor Tillich and Dr. Robinson, the Anglican Bishop of Willich defined the -- construe the idea of the personal god and defined god in such terms as the ultimate ground or root of our being.

As we read the statute, therefore, it does not require belief in any particular kind of god.

The emphasis, we think, is between the contrasts on the one hand between the human duties that arise on between men solely from their relation to their fellows.

And on the other hand, duties, as the statutes put it, superior to those arising from any human relation.

The essence we think is the dichotomy between transcendent or divine obligations and essentially political, sociological, or philosophically views, or a merely personal moral code.

It's plain that Seeger's beliefs, fall in the later half, the nonreligious half of this dichotomy.

The Court will read his own statements.

“To me, I think it is fair to emphasize four points about them that standout."

First, Seeger's objection to serving in the armed forces was we agree, sincere and conscientious.

He pairs to have reached his conclusions after study and reflection.

Second, Seeger plainly did not believe in a god or gods, however defined.

Now, in duties transcending the obligations that arise among men, simply the fact -- from the fact that we are in a human society together, he rejected as pure expedience -- I mean that's his words, actions taken through fear of God, and said that he had more respect for the nobler pagan spirit of antiquity, but for a belief in -- belief in and devotion to goodness, and for their own sake, and to a purely personal ethical code.

Third, I would say that Seeger's philosophy did contain a sense of obligation.