United States v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965)


This case is important for two reasons. One, it was the first case in which the Supreme Court was asked to decide whether a statutory provision that exempts certain persons, because of their religious beliefs, from having to obey a law that other persons have to obey violates one of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Two, in its opinion in the case, the Court enunciated an expansive, modern definition of "religion."

The provision challenged in the case was section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act, which exempts from compulsory military service any person "who, by reason of religious training and belief, is conscientiously opposed to participating in war in any form." It also defines "religious training and belief" as "an individual's belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code."

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Copyright © 2006 from the Encyclopedia of American Civil Liberties edited by Paul Finkelman.

Reproduced by permission of Taylor and Francis Group, LLC, a division of Informa plc.