The Puritans had many good qualities, but a commitment to religious tolerance was not exactly their forte. Particularly obnoxious to them were the Quakers, whose understanding of an “inner light” in all people ran seriously afoul of Calvinist ideas of original sin. Quakers were therefore banned from all the New England colonies except Rhode Island, and in Massachusetts, several were put to death for refusing to remove themselves from that holy commonwealth.
So on the day when we commemorate Puritan Gratitude it is appropriate to note that the U.S. Navy is currently honoring this local tradition by persecuting a Quaker in these parts. The Quaker in question is Michael Izbicki, an officer in the submarine corps in New London, who since graduating from the Naval Academy has come to the conclusion that he cannot support war, applied for conscientious objector status, and joined the Quaker meeting in Westerly, RI.
In his application for CO status, Izbicki has received the support of various clergy, including a tough-minded Navy chaplain who normally takes a dim view of sailors wishing to get out of the service after receiving a free education at Annapolis. But the two Inspecting Officers charged with assessing Izbicki’s case turned thumbs down. The first did so by finding that Izbicki did not measure up to the standards of a Catholic catechism. The second found that Izbicki failed to meet his evangelical terms of faith–biblical inerrancy, Rick Warren’s justification for war, etc.–and suggested that he considered the Society of Friends a cult comparable to the Heaven’s Gate suicides of a decade ago.
The ACLU of Connecticut has taken on Izbicki’s case, filing a habeas corpus petition against the Navy in U.S. District Court in Hartford. In all probability, the Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers will quickly recognize that the Naval authorities have behaved in grotesque violation of longstanding rules for evaluating conscientious objector applications. I suppose it’s understandable that after nearly four decades of an all-volunteer military, memories of how to deal with COs have faded in the services. But Izbicki’s case shows that a little education is in order. Just because the Puritans didn’t like it doesn’t mean that Michael Izbicki’s inner light isn’t to be respected.