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For Any Soldier Conscientious Objector Status Must Come With Real Consequences

The idea that one can be a conscientious objector, even in an all volunteer army, is something which should make Americans proud. The fact that the United States military doesn’t simply tell Pfc. Naser Abdo that he is stuck because he signed a contract demonstrates respect for precisely the kind of freedom of conscience which our service men and women fight to protect. 

Whether such status should be extended to Pfc. Abdo should, as his own legal counsel admits, depend on his particular reasons for seeking C.O. status. If it is because he now finds himself opposed to all war, then it seems appropriate and likely that he will be granted the status he seeks and allowed to separate from the military. If however, he refuses to serve because he objects to this particular deployment, that’s another matter altogether.

While no soldier should be forced to fight a battle which they deem to be immoral, neither can soldiers make such decisions for themselves independent of some real consequences. 

In fact, in cases I know more intimately which have to do with the Israeli military, when soldiers refuse specific orders or deployments ─ whether on religious, political or other ethical grounds ─ they spend time in jail, as I think they should. 

I do not believe that they should be treated as evil or seen as cowardly, and do not believe that either is likely in the case of Pfc. Abdo. But soldiers serving in democratic systems, especially volunteers, cannot make their own rules without threatening the governments they serve. Picking and choosing of that sort turns each service man or woman into an army of one – hardly what a nation needs in order to maintain its national security.

Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and the president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.

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Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is the author of "You Don’t Have to Be Wrong for Me to Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism," and president of Clal-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.