Back around Thanksgiving, we brought you the story of Michael Izbicki, the ensign and Annapolis grad who had sued the Navy in federal court for turning down his application to be discharged because his Christian faith had led him become a conscientious objector. The good news is that after two years the Navy has seen the error of its ways and granted Izbicki his honorable discharge. He got the news a month ago, but now the ink is on the paper and he can leave New London and return to his family in California in peace.
Paul Vitello does a fine job telling the tale in today’s New York Times, but there remain a couple of lessons worth pointing up. First, it’s clear that the Navy and most likely the other services need some education in how to handle C.O. cases, and specifically in how to reckon with the varieties of religious experience that can lead personnel in that direction. Despite having his petition supported by chaplains inside and outside the military, the officers who received his petition and the investigators who questioned him had never dealt with a C.O. case before, and somehow believed that their job was to judge Izbicki according to their own personal religious lights.
Second, we should bear in mind that however the military personnel on the ground handle the preliminaries, it’s the lawyers in the Pentagon who make the decisions once the case gets to court. As Vitello points out, back in 2007, a West Point graduate and Iraq war veteran won a discharge only after a long court battle. I have reason to believe that Izbicki was spared that ordeal because Obama administration lawyers are now the deciders. Next time religious conservatives begin complaining about lack of respect for religious conscience under Obama, they should be reminded of Michael Izbicki.
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Izbicki is the kind of straight arrow who from the outset said he wanted to reimburse the government for the cost of his Naval Academy education–as in fact he will be doing. Raised as a non-denominational evangelical, his reading of the Bible and other religious literature led him to become a pacifist and a Quaker, and he supposed that his military superiors would respect him for coming forward with his views.
“The nuclear program in the Navy stresses integrity and honesty,” he told me yesterday.
“And when I showed the Navy what I believed and why…I
thought it would be a straightforward process. It was not nearly as
straightforward as I thought it would be.”