There's an article at Salon
about a woman whose citizenship application has been rejected because she's a conscientious objector and the belief is not based in religion.
I grew up in the military. When I was 17, it looked like the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) would pass and, at that point, there was a good chance everyone between the ages of 18 and 26, not just men, would have to register for selective service. These days registration requires your Social Security Number, full legal name, and birth date. At the time, it was still being done on cards, and you could write in a preference for service or state you were a conscientious objector. Were the draft to be reinstated, those with a preference would, probably, get that preference unless there were special circumstances, and conscientious objectors would be examined about their beliefs.
My father, a full Colonel, sat down with my sister and less than half an hour later, she said that Dad had suggested she state a preference for Air Force or Naval Air. I think she still regrets never learning to fly a plane.
My conversation with my father took much, much longer. One part of the conversation still sticks out in my mind. Dad, obviously somewhat frustrated with me, said, "Don't you believe there's anything worth dying for?" And I stared at him and said, "Yes, I can think of lots of things I would die for. I can't think of anything worth killing for."
It was years before I realized how much I must have hurt him. I never thought of it as a judgment for his choice of career; I knew that he believed a strong standing army was the best defense a nation could have and his
morality dictated that he serve as part of his nation's defense. It wasn't until I was in my late forties that I found out his parents had discussed disowning him because, as good Baptists, they were pacifist. (My mother still hasn't forgiven me; Dad never thought there was anything to forgive, bless him.)
After making my pronouncement, Dad sat back and said, "Then you're a conscientious objector. That's honorable." He went on to explain that not everyone would see it as honorable. During a popular war, I could be executed for refusing to bear arms, if conscientious objector status were denied -- though he stressed that had never happened in the US. I could be imprisoned, which has happened. I could be sent to work on the front lines without any means of defending myself. (Message runners during World War I were often pacifists who were conscripted and chose to serve rather than go to prison. Their death rate was appallingly high.)
Sometime in the early oughts, my sister got a phone call from a man who said, "I knew who everyone else with this last name was, but I didn't know you." He turned out to be a distant cousin and a fascinating man. He was enough older than my father that he was drafted in World War II. He applied for conscientious objector status and ended up imprisoned for several months before serving as an orderly in military hospitals. Before his death, he and my Dad spoke at a couple of colleges about the morality of the military and conscientious objection within an American context. While both of them are men of deep faith, neither of them presumed that only people of faith could claim conscientious objector status.
I still feel that war is wrong. All war. It is as ingrained as my objection to the death penalty (Not something to debate with my mother, by the way. Dad just told me to get my facts together so I could make logical rather than emotional arguments.)
And I am an atheist.