Koster v Navy

“Koster attended Catholic parochial and high schools and completed almost two years at Cleveland State University before he decided, in January, 1968, to enlist in the United States Navy.

Koster successfully completed boot camp and was selected as the Honorman of his company. He participated in further Naval training and was then assigned to the U.S.S. Yosemite as a repairman. In October, 1968, he was scheduled to leave this station and begin advanced training at the Navy’s Nuclear Power School, which required that he extend his military commitment from 4 to 6 years. Petitioner reported to this school in November, 1968, but did not enter the training program, allegedly because it was at this time that his gradually evolving beliefs of conscientious objection to war had crystallized, and he no longer felt himself capable of remaining a member of the military.

On or about February 7, 1969, Koster submitted his formal application for a conscientious objector discharge pursuant 840*840 to D.O.D. 1300.6 and BUPERSINST 1900.5.[9] Substantively, Koster’s views are expressed in the following passage from his application:

“My basic beliefs are those of Christ and his ideals. This belief is best expressed by saying that love of God is demonstrated by love of man. The word man — meaning all human beings, regardless of their beliefs, race, creed or nationality. I’ve found it often harder to live my beliefs than to acquiesce to the pressure of society. All men have their first obligation to their God and their beliefs; and it is from this obligation and love of God that we get the strength to resist society’s pressures. It is a result of my desire to please God that I cannot reconcile the idea of taking another human life, nor supporting or belonging to an organization that does so. Being a military man or supporting the military means that I am willing to support killing, or actually kill, and I am not prepared to do that, for it is a contradiction of my beliefs. My love of God drives me to please Him, as it does any religious person, to the best of my capabilities regarding what I believe to be His laws. It was God who created me — not my society — and it will be He who will judge me — not my society — so I must obey what I believe to be His will and law.”

— selection from the Judge’s decision in the federal court case: John William Koster v Captain George J. SHARP, U.S.N., Commanding Officer Naval Station, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, John H. Chafee, Secretary of the Navy, Washington, D. C., Melvin Laird, Secretary of Defense, Washington, D. C.

John’s story was included in the book God Versus Caesar: Belief, Worship, and Proselytizing Under the First Amendment, by Martin S. Sheffer.  (Google Books version)

John Koster, a sailor stationed at the Philadelphia Naval Station, was denied a CO discharge by the Bureau of Navy Personnel in Washington, D. C. He brought a habeas corpus writ which was subsequently granted by the Court. The Court felt the discharge had been improperly denied because Koster had factually demonstrated his sincerity and his religious training and belief. However, the Court went one step further and followed Sisson by holding “that the standard of ‘religious training and belief’ is violative of the First Amendment stricture against the establishment of religion and of the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of due process of law.” — Central Committee for Consciencious Objectors,  Vol 21, Issue 5, Sept-Oct 1969

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