The U.S. Navy honorably discharged a sailor as a religious conscientious objector after he sued the military branch.
Ensign Michael Izbicki was released from the Navy Wednesday after a two-year battle to be discharged as a conscientious objector.
A recent graduate from the U.S. Naval Academy, Izbicki was in the process of suing the Navy with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union for his release. He dropped the lawsuit when the branch decided to grant him CO status.
"We are pleased that the Navy has now followed Federal law and military regulations and respected Michael Izbicki's sincere and deeply held religious beliefs," said Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU-CT.
"This victory for religious freedom demonstrates that conscientious objector status must be taken seriously."
Prior to the Navy’s decision, Izbicki had applied to be released from the military as an objector three times. A Christian, he request to be released from the military because he said his religious beliefs kept him from taking a life.
At the heart of the holdup was the investigating officer who did not believe that Izbicki’s beliefs qualified him to object from the war.
According to the ACLU, Izbicki is a Quaker. The investigating officer in the case likened Quakers to a Jim Jones cult.
However, interfaith group the Truth Commission on Conscience in War says that religious soldiers and veterans often feel moral guilt and confliction while serving their country.
Joshua Casteel, an evangelical Christian and West Point graduate, expressed that he felt morally and religiously conflicted by his duty as a military interrogator in 2004 during the Iraq war.
“For a kid who grew up in Evangelical Christianity, as much as we may be patriotic, there’s something that doesn’t quite sit right [about being trained to kill],” he recalled in the Emmy-nominated television documentary, "Soldiers of Conscience."
Casteel said that his moment of change came after interrogating a self-proclaimed jihadist. The jihadist challenged him, asking how Casteel could love Jesus but not follow His command love his enemies and turn the other cheek.
He applied for and was granted CO status in 2005.
“I realized for me to follow Christ involves taking seriously that charge for peacemaking,” revealed Casteel, now a regular speaker for the TCCW.
During a November 2010 press conference, a TCCW coalition of veterans, chaplains and commission officials called on ministers to speak up about conscientious objection.
For Izbicki, he began to object to war after being asked in a mandatory psychological exam if he could launch a nuclear missile. He answered no.
Soon thereafter, Izbicki applied for CO status in 2009 and moved to the St. Francis House, a Connecticut Catholic worker community.
Izbiki’s attorney criticized the Navy for talking so long to grant Izbicki’s release.
“It should not have taken the filing of a federal lawsuit for the Navy to recognize Michael Izbicki as a sincere conscientious objector, consistent with law and its own regulations,” said Deborah H. Karpatkin, a cooperating attorney on the case.
Now a free man, Izbicki’s attorney says he plans to return to San Diego to a new life using his experiences in the Navy to serve in a more peaceful way.
As part of his CO discharge, Izbicki must reimburse the Navy for his education at the academy.