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Court upholds conscientious objector's status

Email|Print| Text size + By Shelley Murphy
Globe Staff / January 10, 2008

A federal appeals court ruled yesterday in favor of an anesthesiologist who asked to be discharged from the US Army as a conscientious objector after the military paid $184,000 for her to attend Tufts University School of Medicine.

In a 2-to-1 vote, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit upheld a judge who in October 2006 halted the Army's effort to force Dr. Mary Hanna, 31, of Somerville, to report for active duty, ruling that an Army review board's denial of her request for conscientious objector status "was without a basis in fact."

The court's majority opinion cited testimony from priests, superior officers, and an Army investigator assigned to the case, who all concluded that Hanna, a devout Coptic Orthodox Christian, "sincerely opposed participation in war because of her religious beliefs."

In his dissent, Michael Boudin, chief judge of the First Circuit Court, said that the case presented "a close call," but that US District Judge Nancy Gertner should have deferred to the Army review board, which found the timing of Hanna's claim suspicious and concluded her statements lacked "passion and sincerity."

When Hanna enlisted in 1997, she committed to serve four years of active duty and another four in the Reserve in exchange for an Army-paid scholarship for her medical training. But just before Christmas 2005, as she neared the end of her anesthesiology residency at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Hanna notified the Army that she had rekindled her faith in God and that her religious beliefs were "incompatible with military service."

Hanna, an Army Reserve captain, offered to repay the Army scholarship, plus interest, and wrote in her application for a discharge as a conscientious objector that she was a pacifist and "cannot participate in war in any form."

According to court records, a brigadier general wrote, "The solemnity of her convictions is clear . . . and they do not appear to have been born of a desire to avoid service."

But the Army review board voted, 2 to 1, to reject Hanna's discharge, questioning her sincerity and the timing of her request, which was made shortly after another anesthesiologist was discharged on the same grounds.

The US attorney's office, which represented the Army in the case, declined to comment.

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