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Puritans had many good qualities, but a commitment to religious
tolerance was not exactly their forte. Particularly obnoxious to them
were the Quakers, whose understanding of an “inner light” in all people
ran seriously afoul of Calvinist ideas of original sin. Quakers were
therefore banned from all the New England colonies except Rhode Island,
and in Massachusetts, several were put to death for refusing to remove
themselves from that holy commonwealth.
So on the day when we
commemorate Puritan Gratitude it is appropriate to note that the U.S.
Navy is currently honoring this local tradition by persecuting a Quaker
in these parts. The Quaker in question is Michael Izbicki, an officer in
the submarine corps in New London, who since graduating from the Naval
Academy has come to the conclusion that he cannot support war, applied
for conscientious objector status, and joined the Quaker meeting in
In his application for CO status, Izbicki has received the support of
various clergy, including a tough-minded Navy chaplain who normally
takes a dim view of sailors wishing to get out of the service after
receiving a free education at Annapolis. But the two Inspecting Officers
charged with assessing Izbicki’s case turned thumbs down. The first did
so by finding that Izbicki did not measure up to the standards of a
Catholic catechism. The second found that Izbicki failed to meet his
evangelical terms of faith–biblical inerrancy, Rick Warren’s
justification for war, etc.–and suggested that he considered the
Society of Friends a cult comparable to the Heaven’s Gate suicides of a decade ago.
The ACLU of Connecticut has taken on Izbicki’s case, filing a habeas corpus petition
against the Navy in U.S. District Court in Hartford. In all
probability, the Justice Department and Pentagon lawyers will quickly
recognize that the Naval authorities have behaved in grotesque violation
of longstanding rules for evaluating conscientious objector
applications. I suppose it’s understandable that after nearly four
decades of an all-volunteer military, memories of how to deal with COs
have faded in the services. But Izbicki’s case shows that a little
education is in order. Just because the Puritans didn’t like it doesn’t
mean that Michael Izbicki’s inner light isn’t to be respected.