Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Arts (MA)

Degree Name


Department or School/College

Department of History

Committee Chair

Michael S. Mayer

Commitee Members

Kyle G. Volk, Patrick Peel


Preferred Freedoms, Judicial Restraint, Clear and Present Danger, Civil Liberty, Procedural Due Process, Judicial Review


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Constitutional Law | Intellectual History | United States History


This thesis examines the history of American conscientious objectors to military service during the aftermath of World War II. It describes why conscientious objectors were viewed with distrust and suspicion for their refusal to bear arms in defense of the nation and considers how groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars attempted to prevent COs from enjoying key benefits of U.S. citizenship by demanding that conscientious objectors be excluded from public employment and denied most forms of government assistance. This thesis focuses on decisions of the United States Supreme Court following World War II that defined and extended the rights of conscientious objectors. Some of those decisions reflected and continued a debate over the protection of speech and claims of conscience that developed among the Justices on the Supreme Court following the end of World War I. This paper explores and evaluates the connections between the World War I era cases and decisions that followed the end of World War II. Analysis of the post World War II decisions reveals how the Supreme Court moved away from ideological debates over the protection of conscience towards the imposition of procedural rules designed to insure that administrative and judicial hearings involving COs met due process standards. The contests over the rights of conscientious objectors that followed the end of World War II displayed the expanding role the Supreme Court assumed in protecting the civil liberties of all Americans. The Supreme Court cases concerning conscientious objectors discussed here also showed how judicial protection of claims of conscience were influenced by Cold War fears that the philosophy of COs might undermine the ability of the nation to defend itself.



© Copyright 2015 Robert S. Rutherfurd