Event—Tour

Charles McCrary, Washington University in St. Louis

Conscientious Objectors and Investigatory Secularism

Conscientious Objectors and Investigatory Secularism

This paper shows how secular agents in the federal judiciary and legislature created standards of religious sincerity in the context of mid-twentieth-century conscientious objector cases. Evidence of sincere belief could be found in individuals only through investigation—“probing a man’s conscience,” as one circuit judge put it—so the judiciary enlisted the help of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who conducted thousands of investigations, which were then summarized in reports for the courts. This paper analyzes these cases and argues that investigation is a crucially important tactic of secular governance, religious freedom, and the history of “sincerely held religious belief.”