Conscientious objector wins discharge

Navy ensign cited religious beliefs

By Stephanie Reitz
Associated Press / February 23, 2011

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HARTFORD — A junior officer at a Connecticut submarine base has received an honorable discharge after suing the US Navy, saying his religious beliefs prevent him from participating in the military.

Ensign Michael Izbicki, formerly stationed at the Naval Submarine School in Groton, was discharged Feb. 16 as a conscientious objector. The paperwork he filed to drop his lawsuit was approved and signed yesterday by US District Court officials in Hartford.

Izbicki said he plans to use the skills he learned in the Navy to remain in some realm of public service, but not in the military.

The American Civil Liberties Union’s Connecticut chapter sued the Navy on Izbicki’s behalf last year after he was twice denied an honorable discharge, which he requested based on his religious opposition to war and the potential that he might be expected to kill others.

Izbicki, 25, a native of San Clemente, Calif., has said he followed his family tradition by enlisting in the military and entered the Naval Academy in 2004 with plans to become an officer.

“My military service was kind of a natural expression of my Christian beliefs,’’ he said Tuesday. “As a Christian, I wanted to serve people, and the military was the only way I knew how to do that.’’

However, he said, his Christian beliefs began to conflict with his service after he graduated from the academy and began submarine training.

He concluded that he needed to seek the honorable discharge after taking a required psychological exam and answering on an exam question that he could not launch a nuclear missile.

His application for a discharge on the grounds of being a conscientious objector was twice denied.

His lawsuit alleged the decisions were based on misinformation about his religious beliefs and Quakers, whose services he had attended but with whom he is not affiliated.

Quakers, also known as the Religious Society of Friends, emphasize peace, simplicity, candor, and a personal relationship with God.

As part of his honorable discharge, Izbicki will reimburse the Navy an unspecified amount for his education. He said he plans to move back to California, but does not yet know what career he will pursue.

A message was left yesterday seeking comment from the Navy’s public affairs representative. A spokesman for the US attorney’s office in New Haven, which represented the Navy, said they had no comment about the case.

David McGuire, a staff attorney for the Connecticut office of the ACLU, said Izbicki has gone through “a long and trying process,’’ and ACLU officials called it a victory for religious freedom.

“He looks forward now to being free of the conflict between his religious beliefs and his work, which he experienced daily and continuously while his Navy service continued,’’ McGuire said.

Applications for discharges based on conscientious objector status are relatively rare among the nation’s approximately 2.3 million active and reserve military members, and they are only approved about half of the time, according to a 2007 report by the US Government Accountability Office.

From 2002 to 2006, the military approved 53 percent, or 224, of the 425 applications it received.