Conscientious objector allowed to leave the Navy

First Michael Izbicki made a list of all the wars involving the United States, crossing off the ones he felt he could not participate in.

He had assumed that, at least, World War II would stay on the list. But eventually that conflict had a line through it, too.

Then Izbicki said he wrote down all the jobs in the Navy that were not directly involved in combat. But, based on his Christian beliefs, he decided he couldn't help prepare someone for combat if he wouldn't fight himself. Nor could he take care of weapons that he wouldn't launch.

After four years at the U.S. Naval Academy, followed by a master's degree in computer science at Johns Hopkins University to further his career as a submariner, Izbicki took a required psychological exam during the first week of nuclear-power training in South Carolina. The test asked if he could launch a nuclear missile if ordered to do so.

He answered no.

The only way to resolve the conflict between his convictions and his responsibilities as a submariner, Izbicki said, was to ask to leave the Navy as a conscientious objector.

The Navy said no, first while he was in South Carolina and again after he was assigned to the Naval Submarine Base in Groton in early 2010. Most recently he served as an ensign on the staff at the Naval Submarine School.

Last week the Navy honorably discharged Izbicki. It is requiring him to pay back the cost of his education, although he has not yet been told the amount.

"If I were transported back seven years, I would not want to rejoin the Navy," Izbicki, 25, said Tuesday. "But at the time, if I had not decided to go into the Navy I would've always been wondering, 'What if?'"

The Navy's reversal comes after the American Civil Liberties Union in Connecticut, and two cooperating attorneys, petitioned the federal court in Hartford on Izbicki's behalf in November, "challenging his military custody on the grounds that the Navy has twice unlawfully denied his application for discharge as a conscientious objector."

The petition cites Izbicki's "deep and sincerely held religious beliefs" as the reason he could no longer serve. It was filed against the Secretary of the Navy and the commanding officer of the Naval Submarine School.

The court approved the ACLU's request to dismiss the case Tuesday. The Navy did not comment. A spokesman at the Navy Personnel Command referred questions to the Navy Chief of Information Tuesday morning, and a spokeswoman in the information office referred questions back to the personnel command late in the workday.

A spokesman for the Groton base said he was unaware of any other recent cases involving conscientious objectors at the installation.

"As a Christian I was supposed to serve people, and in the military I would be serving my country," said Izbicki, who began attending church regularly in high school. "It wasn't until training when I started feeling that the Iraq war was not appropriate, then the Afghanistan war."

The question on the psychological exam, he said, made him contemplate scenarios in which he felt it would be appropriate to kill.

"The example everybody uses as a just war was World War II," he said. "I feel like there were lots of good examples of how Christians who felt the same way I do lived out their beliefs and resisted the Nazi regime nonviolently."

He described the process of seeking conscientious objector status as both draining and isolating. Two Navy chaplains, a retired Navy chaplain, two civilian-ordained clergy and the clerk of the Westerly Friends Meeting, a Quaker group, supported the request, according to the ACLU.

Izbicki lives at the Saint Francis House, a Christian community in New London, but he plans to return to his hometown of San Clemente, Calif. His interest in the military came, in part, from living near Camp Pendleton. His grandfathers also served, and he felt a calling to serve after Sept. 11, 2001.

"I joined the Navy because I wanted to make the world a better place," Izbicki said. "It's still my goal to do that in a peaceful manner."

One possibility, he said, is using his training to help ensure that nuclear material is not diverted from power plants.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU in Connecticut, called the outcome of Izbicki's case a "victory for religious freedom" that "demonstrates that conscientious-objector status must be taken seriously."

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