LOS ANGELES - Attorney Deborah H. Karpatkin and the ACLU of Southern California today filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of a 26-year-old Army specialist being kept in the Army against his Buddhist-Taoist beliefs. The suit seeks to have the man, who enlisted only after being promised that military duties would not conflict with his religious beliefs, discharged as a conscientious objector.
Calvin Lee, currently assigned to the 58th Combat Engineer Company based at Ft. Irwin, joined the Army in 2004 after a zealous recruiter approached him at a civilian job fair in South San Francisco. Though he had learned English from brief stays in America and in school in Southeast Asia, he was unfamiliar with the tactics of military recruiters. When the recruiter told him his job would be repairing trucks and that he would never have to leave Fort Irwin or go to war, against his deeply held Buddhist-Taoist beliefs, Lee believed him and signed the three year contract.
Once training began, Lee realized he was being trained to kill along with his training as a mechanic. Even the trucks he repaired were helping to kill. He became uneasy but continued to work, turning down promotions in rank and salary as he felt his faith required.
By Nov. 2006, his personal turmoil was so great he applied to a temple in Southeast Asia to live as a monk at the end of his Army service in Sept. 2007. But to his dismay, in Dec. 2006 he was told that his term of service in the Army was being extended as part of the 'stop loss' policy and his unit would be deployed to Iraq in the summer of 2007. Lee applied for conscientious objector status.
'Every action of killing is so evil and wrong, I don't want to do any evil things and see any suffering happening right in front of my eyes,' Lee said. 'Killing brings negative karma and is prohibited in Buddhism and judged in Taoism.'
Though the officers, the chaplain and a mental health specialist who interviewed Lee as part of the Army's evaluation process all recommended that he be released as a conscientious objector, the Department of the Army rejected his application without explanation.
Federal law and Army regulations require discharge from military service of individuals who, after their service begins, show that they have become conscientiously opposed to war in any form, that their opposition is founded on religious training and belief, and that their position is sincere and deeply held.
'Calvin Lee's conscientious objector beliefs are based on his Buddhist Taoist beliefs, which are sincere and deeply held. His views about his participation in war developed as his experience in the Army developed,' said attorney Deborah Karpatkin of New York.
'Based on the record, the Army has no basis in fact and no good reason to refuse Calvin's application. As Calvin wrote in his CO application, he learned in the Army that America is about seeking religious freedom. That must include young men like Calvin, who because of conscience or religious belief no longer can participate in war in any form.'
Because the Army, wrongly, did not recognize him as a sincere conscientious objector, the ACLU is appealing that decision. The case was filed in the U.S. District Court, Central District of California.