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Muhammad Ali at the Supreme Court

muhammad Ali

Bust photographic portrait of Muhammad Ali in 1967. World Journal Tribune photo by Ira Rosenberg

With the reported death of Muhammad Ali, f/k/a Cassius Clay, a look back at Clay v. United States (1971) seems appropriate.  In Clay, the Court reversed Ali’s conviction for “willful refusal to submit to induction into the armed forces.”

The Department of Justice had asserted that Ali’s claim for conscientious objector status did not meet the “religious” requirement, even as it had previously been expanded in the now-classic cases of United States v. Seeger (1965) and Welsh v. United States (1970).  The Department of Justice had stated:

‘It seems clear that the teachings of the Nation of Islam preclude fighting for the United States not because of objections to participation in war in any form but rather because of political and racial objections to policies of the United States as interpreted by Elijah Muhammad. * * * It is therefore our conclusion that registrant’s claimed objections to participation in war insofar as they are based upon the teachings of the Nation of Islam, rest on grounds which primarily are political and racial.’

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