Refusal by Jehovah's Witnesses to comply with the obligation to declare themselves available for civilian service
Freedom of conscience
Objection to military service
"Total objector" status
RULING Nº 681/95
5 of December of 1995
The right to conscientious objection, as a corollary of freedom of conscience, takes the form of opposition to general legislation based on individual conscience, because of personal convictions that prevent the individual from respecting that legislation, and extends beyond obligations arising from compulsory military service to other areas.
In the specific area of conscientious objection to military service, the Constitution requires conscientious objectors to undertake civilian service for an equivalent period and of equivalent difficulty to military service.
In the case of conscientious objection, the principle that citizens should bear an equal share of the community burden requires a balance to be struck between freedom of conscience and the right and duty to defend the homeland, such that the harmonisation of these constitutional values safeguards the freedom while not dispensing with the duty. This is why the right to conscientious objection to military service is linked to the requirement to undertake civilian service as an alternative.
Individuals' obligation to declare themselves available for civilian service, thus excluding recognition of a "total objector" status, cannot be deemed an excessive or unreasonable requirement, and is not, therefore, unconstitutional.
This judgment concerns the provision of the legislation on conscientious objection to military service which requires persons claiming the status of conscientious objectors to make an express declaration of their availability to undertake alternative civilian service.
The Jehovah's Witnesses refuse to make this declaration and therefore fail to obtain conscientious objector status. As a result, they continue to be statutorily liable to normal military obligations, with the possibility of their being called up to complete military service.
The very large number of constitutional appeals and the need for uniform case-law led to the intervention of the Court's plenary assembly.
In a controversial decision, the Court found, by a narrow majority, that the relevant statutory provision was not unconstitutional.
Mandatory case-law for the Constitutional Court.