For all its anti-war origins, conscientious objection proves to be surprisingly volatile, not to mention unstable. Once associated with scruffy hippies and peaceniks, military protest has been co-opted by conservative soldiers who object to the forthcoming Don't Ask, Don't Tell repeal. It's a natural fit, actually, but that doesn't make it right. Or prudent. Not only are such arguments yellow-bellied, they come complete with an ironic SNAFU.
Military law experts and non-profits have reported an uptick in soldiers using the CO defense for their disapproval of a gay inclusive unit. Bob Jolly from the GI Rights Network in San Francisco recalls a letter written from a staff sergeant for a soldier who worried about a homo invasion. "The soldier is a very devoted Christian who believes that practicing homosexuality is a sin," he said. "With changes in the 'don't ask don't tell' policy, he is concerned that he will have to bunk and shower with homosexuals. He is concerned to the point that he is asking about ways to get out of the Army."
JE McNeil from the Center on Conscience and War has received similar correspondence. Both she and Jolly don't believe such a defense would go over well. "In the 'don't ask, don't tell' situation, they're not opposed to participating in war, they're opposed to who they're participating with," McNeil told the New York Times. The Army's conscientious objector guidelines are quite clear: the applicant must be adverse to "participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms." They can cite religious reasons, sure, but they must be "sincere." And that's where the irony enters the scene.
The Armed Services aren't softies when it comes to conscientious objection. Applicants are put through a series of tests and surveys to determine the veracity of their request. In the case of religious objections, the Army code specifies "the reviewing authorities must find that an applicant's moral and ethical beliefs oppose participation in war in any form and that the applicant holds these beliefs with the strength of traditional religious convictions." And that review includes a thorough examination of one's "lifestyle," so often used as a right wing euphemism for "homosexual."
"Determine sincerity by evaluating the applicant's thinking and life style in its totality, past and present," reads the Army manual when detailing how to judge a religious conscientious objection. Anyone who uses the CO defense to protest openly gay soldiers will thus find themselves under the same level of scrutiny gay people face under Don't Ask, Don't Tell. And if the soldiers exhibit immoral behavior, whatever that may mean, they may find that their religious defense bites them in the backside.