Magistrate backs soldier for conscientious objector status

Posted: Wednesday, May 14, 2008

ANCHORAGE - A federal magistrate has ruled that the Army should be ordered to grant conscientious objector status to a Fort Richardson-based paratrooper.

Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News
Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News

The request by Pfc. Michael Barnes, 26, was denied last year.

U.S. Magistrate John Roberts ruled Tuesday that the government failed to show any "basis in fact" for denying Barnes' request to be honorably discharged due to his religious beliefs.

The government has four days to respond.

Barnes is a native of Portland, Ore. He enlisted in February 2005 and served in Iraq in 2006 and 2007. The paratrooper served as a radio operator in the 4th Airborne Brigade Combat Team.

Barnes did not testify Monday during an hourlong hearing while sitting alongside Anchorage attorney Sam Fortier. In paperwork filed with the court, he declared that his Christian faith, which became clear as he watched events in Iraq unfold, now prohibits him from waging war.

"Spending my time on this earth killing or supporting killing others is unacceptable to me," Barnes wrote. "Serving Jesus is doing the opposite of participating in war. It is loving your enemy, avoiding conflict, being humble and living peacefully. I am unable to serve the Lord and support war."

Barnes was baptized at New Hope Community Church in Portland in 2001.

The Army not only denied Barnes' request for conscientious objector status but also rejected his petition to be honorably discharged. The Army Conscientious Objector Review Board in Alexandria, Va., in September found Barnes failed to make a convincing case.

"I do not believe that Pfc. Barnes ... is sincerely opposed to participating in war, in any form, due to his religious faith," wrote the staff judge advocate in recommending the request be denied.

Army officials found that Barnes' request was at odds with him saying previously he wanted to serve in Iraq. They also noted that the request came three months after his deployment to Iraq. And they said officers in his chain of command were never made aware of his objections to the war until he was reassigned in December 2006 to serve as a gunner.

"Persons around him were surprised by his decision to become a conscientious objector," said Maj. Josh Toman.

But Barnes' lead attorney, Steven Collier, addressing the court by telephone from San Francisco, noted that his client did share his misgivings with fellow soldiers as well as an Army doctor, who treated him for clinical depression, and an Army chaplain, who testified on his behalf.

"Three people testified that his Christian religious faith was growing at that time," Collier said.

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