MR. JUSTICE BRENNAN delivered the opinion of the Court.
A draftee accorded Class I-O conscientious objector status and completing performance of required alternative
We consider first appellants' contention that § 211 (a) bars federal courts from deciding the constitutionality of veterans' benefits legislation. Such a construction would, of course, raise serious questions concerning the constitutionality of § 211 (a),
Plainly, no explicit provision of § 211 (a) bars judicial consideration of appellee's constitutional claims. That section provides that "the decisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration providing benefits for veterans . . . shall be final and conclusive and no . . . court of the United States shall have power or jurisdiction to review any such decision . . . ." (Emphasis added.) The prohibitions would appear to be aimed at review only of those decisions of law or fact that arise in the administration by the Veterans' Administration of a statute providing benefits for veterans. A decision of law or fact "under" a statute is made by the Administrator in the interpretation or application of a particular provision of the statute to a particular set of facts. Appellee's constitutional challenge is not to any such decision of the Administrator, but rather to a decision of Congress to create a statutory class entitled to benefits that does not include I-O conscientious objectors who performed alternative civilian service. Thus, as the District Court stated: "The questions of law presented in these proceedings arise under the Constitution, not under the statute whose validity is challenged." 352 F. Supp., at 853.
This construction is also supported by the administrative practice of the Veterans' Administration. "When faced with a problem of statutory construction, this Court shows great deference to the interpretation given the
Nor does the legislative history accompanying the 1970 amendment of § 211 (a) demonstrate a congressional intention to bar judicial review even of constitutional questions. No-review clauses similar to § 211 (a) have been a part of veterans' benefits legislation since 1933.
Congress perceived this judicial interpretation as a threat to the dual purposes of the no-review clause. First, the interpretation would lead to an inevitable increase in litigation with consequent burdens upon the courts and the Veterans' Administration. In its House Report, the Committee on Veterans' Affairs stated that "[s]ince the decision in the Tracy case—and as the result of that decision and the Wellman and Thompson decisions —suits in constantly increasing numbers have been filed in the U. S. District Court for the District of Columbia by plaintiffs seeking a resumption of terminated benefits." H. R. Rep. No. 91-1166, p. 10 (1970). This same concern over the rising number of court cases was expressed by the Administrator in a letter to the Committee:
Second, Congress was concerned that the judicial interpretation of § 211 (a) would involve the courts in day-to-day determination and interpretation of Veterans' Administration policy. The House Report states that the cases already filed in the courts in response to Wellman, Thompson, and Tracy
The Administrator voiced similar concerns, stating that "it seems obvious that suits similar to the several hundred already filed can—and undoubtedly will—subject nearly every aspect of our benefit determinations to judicial review, including rating decisions, related Veterans' Administration regulations, Administrator's decisions, and various adjudication procedures." Letter to the Committee on Veterans' Affairs 23-24.
Thus, the 1970 amendment was enacted to overrule the interpretation of the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and thereby restore vitality to the two primary purposes to be served by the no-review clause. Nothing whatever in the legislative history of the 1970 amendment, or predecessor no-review clauses, suggests any congressional intent to preclude judicial cognizance of constitutional challenges to veterans' benefits legislation. Such challenges obviously do not contravene the purposes of the no-review clause, for they cannot be expected to burden the courts by their volume, nor do they involve technical considerations of Veterans' Administration policy. We therefore conclude, in agreement with the District Court, that a construction of § 211 (a) that does not extend the prohibitions of that section to actions challenging the constitutionality of laws providing benefits for veterans is not only "fairly possible" but is the most reasonable construction, for neither the text nor the scant legislative history of § 211 (a) provides the "clear and convincing" evidence of congressional intent required by this Court before a
Turning to the merits, the District Court held that, by not including appellee and his class, the challenged sections of the Act create an arbitrary classification in violation of appellee's right to equal protection of the laws. In determining whether, in limiting the class of draftees entitled to benefits to those who serve their country on active duty in the Armed Forces, Congress denied equal protection of the laws to Selective Service registrants who perform alternative civilian service as conscientious objectors,
Legislation to further these objectives is plainly within Congress' Art. I, § 8, power "to raise and support Armies." Our task is therefore narrowed to the determination of whether there is some ground of difference having a fair and substantial relation to at least one of the stated purposes justifying the different treatment accorded veterans who served on active duty in the Armed Forces, and conscientious objectors who performed alternative civilian service.
The District Court reasoned that objectives (2), (3), and (4) of § 1651 are basically variations on a single theme reflecting a congressional purpose to "eliminate the educational gaps between persons who served their country and those who did not." 352 F. Supp., at 858. Therefore,
The error in this rationale is that it states too broadly the congressional objective reflected in (2), (3), and (4) of § 1651. The wording of those sections, in conjunction with the attendant legislative history, makes clear that Congress' purpose in enacting the Veterans' Readjustment Benefits Act of 1966 was not primarily to "eliminate the educational gaps between persons who served their country and those who did not," but rather to compensate for the disruption that military service causes to civilian lives. In other words, the aim of the Act was to assist those who served on active duty in the Armed Forces to "readjust" to civilian life. Indeed, as the appellants argue, Brief for Appellants 20 n. 18, "the very name of the statute—the Veterans' Readjustment Benefits Act—emphasizes congressional concern with the veteran's need for assistance in readjusting to civilian life."
Of course, merely labeling the class of beneficiaries under the Act as those having served on active duty in
First, the disruption caused by military service is quantitatively greater than that caused by alternative civilian service. A conscientious objector performing alternative service is obligated to work for two years. Service in the Armed Forces, on the other hand, involves a six-year commitment. While active duty may be limited to two years, the military veteran remains subject to an Active Reserve and then Standby Reserve obligation after release from active duty. This additional military service obligation was emphasized by Congress as a significant reason for providing veterans' readjustment benefits. A section entitled "Compulsory Reserve requirements" of the Senate Report states:
Second, the disruptions suffered by military veterans and alternative service performers are qualitatively different. Military veterans suffer a far greater loss of personal freedom during their service careers. Uprooted from civilian life, the military veteran becomes part of the military establishment, subject to its discipline and potentially hazardous duty. Congress was acutely aware of the peculiar disabilities caused by military service, in consequence of which military servicemen have a special need for readjustment benefits. The Senate Report accompanying the Act states:
See also H. R. Rep. No. 1258, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 4 (1966).
These quantitative and qualitative distinctions, expressly recognized by Congress, form a rational basis for
The statutory classification also bears a rational relationship to objective (1) of § 1651, that of "enhancing and making more attractive service in the Armed Forces of the United States." By providing educational benefits to all military veterans who serve on active duty Congress expressed its judgment that such benefits would make military service more attractive to enlistees and draftees alike. Appellee concedes, Brief for Appellee 28, that this objective is rationally promoted by providing educational benefits to those who enlist. But, appellee argues, there is no rational basis for extending educational benefits to draftees who serve in the military and not to draftees who perform civilian alternative service, since neither group is induced by educational benefits to enlist. Therefore, appellee concludes, the Act's classification scheme does not afford equal protection because it fails to treat equally persons similarly circumstanced.
The two groups of draftees are, in fact, not similarly circumstanced. To be sure, a draftee, by definition, does not find educational benefits sufficient incentive to enlist. But, military service with educational benefits is obviously more attractive to a draftee than military service without educational benefits. Thus, the existence of educational benefits may help induce a registrant either to volunteer for the draft or not seek a lower Selective Service classification.
Finally, appellee argues that the District Court erred in holding that "the challenged exclusion does not abridge [appellee's] free exercise of his religion," 352 F. Supp., at 860. He contends that the Act's denial of benefits to alternative service conscientious objectors interferes with his free exercise of religion by increasing the price he must pay for adherence to his religious beliefs. That contention must be rejected in light of our decision in Gillette v. United States, 401 U.S. 437 (1971).
There, the petitioners, conscientious objectors to particular wars, argued that § 6 (j) of the Military Selective
We made clear, however, that "[o]ur cases do not at their farthest reach support the proposition that a stance of conscientious opposition relieves an objector from any colliding duty fixed by a democratic government." "[Rather,] incidental burdens . . . [may be] strictly justified by substantial governmental interests . . . ." Id., at 461, 462. Finding "the Government's interest in procuring the manpower necessary for military purposes, pursuant to the congressional grant of power to Congress
The challenged legislation in the present case does not require appellee and his class to make any choice comparable to that required of the petitioners in Gillette. The withholding of educational benefits involves only an incidental burden upon appellee's free exercise of religion —if, indeed, any burden exists at all.
MR. JUSTICE DOUGLAS, dissenting.
In my dissent applicable to Braunfield v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, I expressed the view that Pennsylvania's Sunday closing law was unconstitutional as applied to Sabbatarians, see 366 U. S., at 561, 575, 577. The State imposed a penalty on a Sabbatarian for keeping his shop open on the day which was the Sabbath of the Christian majority; and that seemed to me to exact an impermissible price for the free exercise of the Sabbatarian's religion. Indeed, in that case the Sabbatarian would be unable to continue in business if he could not stay open on Sunday and would lose his capital investment. See id., at 611.
In Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61, we held, in overruling United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644, that the words of the oath prescribed by Congress for naturalization—"will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic"—should not be read as requiring the bearing of arms, as there is room under our Constitution for the support and defense of the Nation in times of great peril by those whose religious scruples bar them from shouldering arms. We said: "The effort of war is indivisible; and those whose religious scruples prevent them from killing are no less patriots than those whose special traits or handicaps result in their assignment to duties far behind the fighting front. Each is making the utmost contribution according to his capacity. The fact that his role may be limited by religious convictions rather than by physical characteristics has
Closer in point to the present problem is Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398, where a Seventh Day Adventist was denied unemployment benefits by the State because she would not work on Saturday, the Sabbath day of her faith. We held that that disqualification for unemployment benefits imposed an impermissible burden on the free exercise of her religion, saying: "Here not only is it apparent that appellant's declared ineligibility for benefits derives solely from the practice of her religion, but the pressure upon her to [forgo] that practice is unmistakable. The ruling forces her to choose between following the precepts of her religion and forfeiting benefits, on the one hand, and abandoning one of the precepts of her religion in order to accept work, on the other hand. Governmental imposition of such a choice puts the same kind of burden upon the free exercise of religion as would a fine imposed against appellant for her Saturday worship." Id., at 404.
And we found no "compelling" state interest to justify the State's infringement of one's religious liberty in that manner. Id., at 406-408.
In Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205, we held that Wisconsin's compulsory school attendance law as applied to Amish children would gravely impair the free exercise of their religious beliefs.
The District Court in the present case said that the penalty which the present Act places on conscientious objectors is of a lesser "order or magnitude"
That is true; yet the discrimination against a man with religious scruples seems apparent. The present Act derives from a House bill that had as its purpose solely an education program to "help a veteran to follow the educational plan that he might have adopted had he never entered the Armed Forces." H. R. Rep. No. 1258, 89th Cong., 2d Sess., 5. Full benefits are available to occupants of safe desk jobs and the thousands of veterans who performed civilian type duties at home and for whom the rigors of the "war" were far from "totally disruptive," to use the Government's phrase. The benefits are provided, though the draftee did not serve overseas but lived with his family in a civilian community and worked from nine until five as a file clerk on a military base or attended college courses in his off-duty hours. No condition of hazardous duty was attached to the educational assistance program. As Senator Yarborough said,
But the line drawn in the Act is between Class I-O conscientious objectors who performed alternative civilian
Title 32 CFR § 1622.14 (1971) directed local Selective Service Boards that
"[i]n Class I-O shall be placed every registrant who would have been classified in Class I-A but for the fact that he has been found, by reason of religious training and belief, to be conscientiously opposed to participation in war in any form and to be conscientiously opposed to participation in both combatant and noncombatant training and service in the armed forces."
Further, § 456 (j) and 32 CFR §§ 1660.1-12 (1972) authorized local Selective Service Boards to order I-O conscientious objectors to perform alternative civilian service contributing to the maintenance of the national health, safety, or interest.
"(21) The term `active duty' means—
"(A) full-time duty in the Armed Forces, other than active duty for training."
Title 38 U. S. C. § 1652 (a) (1) provides:
"The term `eligible veteran' means any veteran who (A) served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days any part of which occurred after January 31, 1955, and who was discharged or released therefrom under conditions other than dishonorable or (B) was discharged or released from active duty after such date for a service-connected disability."
Title 38 U. S. C. § 1661 (a) provides:
"Except as provided in subsection (c) and in the second sentence of this subsection, each eligible veteran shall be entitled to educational assistance under this chapter for a period of one and one-half months (or the equivalent thereof in part-time educational assistance) for each month or fraction thereof of his service on active duty after January 31, 1955. If an eligible veteran has served a period of 18 months or more on active duty after January 31, 1955, and has been released from such service under conditions that would satisfy his active duty obligations, he shall be entitled to educational assistance under this chapter for a period of 36 months (or the equivalent thereof in part-time educational assistance)."
The amount of money provided by the Act varies with the type of educational program pursued and the number of dependents a veteran has. For example, a veteran enrolled in a full-time college or graduate degree program with two dependents receives $298 per month. 38 U. S. C. § 1682 (a), as amended by the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1972, § 102, 86 Stat. 1075.
"(a) On and after October 17, 1940, except as provided in sections 775, 784, and as to matters arising under chapter 37 of this title, the decisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration providing benefits for veterans and their dependents or survivors shall be final and conclusive and no other official or any court of the United States shall have power or jurisdiction to review any such decision by an action in the nature of mandamus or otherwise."
"Any party may appeal to the Supreme Court from an interlocutory or final judgment, decree or order of any court of the United States . . . holding an Act of Congress unconstitutional in any civil action, suit, or proceeding to which the United States or any of its agencies, or any officer or employee thereof, as such officer or employee, is a party."
The appellants do not appeal the District Court's adverse ruling upon two alternative grounds for dismissal: that the complaint failed to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, and that the plaintiff failed to exhaust available administrative remedies.
"All decisions rendered by the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs under the provisions of this title . . . shall be final and conclusive on all questions of law and fact, and no other official or court of the United States shall have jurisdiction to review by mandamus or otherwise any such decision."
In 1940 the no-review statute was amended, § 11, 54 Stat. 1197, to expand its application:
"Notwithstanding any other provisions of law . . . the decisions of the Administrator of Veterans' Affairs on any question of law or fact concerning a claim for benefits or payments under this or any other Act administered by the Veterans' Administration shall be final and conclusive and no other official or any court of the United States shall have power or jurisdiction to review any such decisions."
When veterans' benefits legislation was finally consolidated in the Veterans' Benefits Act of 1957, § 211, 71 Stat. 92, the no-review clause was left substantially unaltered:
"[D]ecisions of the Administrator on any question of law or fact concerning a claim for benefits or payments under any law administered by the Veterans' Administration shall be final and conclusive and no other official or any court of the United States shall have power or jurisdiction to review any such decision."
The 1940 Act received little more discussion. However, Senator George remarked of the no-review clause:
"[T]he bill only confirms what has been the accepted belief and conviction, that with respect to any pension, [or] gratuity, . . . there is no right of action in the courts . . . . It is not so much a limitation as a restatement of what is believed to be the law upon the question." 86 Cong. Rec. 13383 (1940).
The House debate indicates that the no-review clause
"is desirable for the purpose of uniformity and to make clear what is believed to be the intention of Congress that the various laws shall be uniformly administered in accordance with the liberal policies governing the Veterans' Administration." Id., at 13491.
The legislative history attending the 1957 amendment to the no-review clause is similarly uninstructive, indicating only that the change was one of consolidation. See H. R. Rep. No. 279, 85th Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1957); S. Rep. No. 332, 85th Cong., 1st Sess., 1 (1957). See Davis, Veterans' Benefits, Judicial Review, and the Constitutional Problems of "Positive" Government, 39 Ind. L. J. 181, 188-189 (1964); Comment, Judicial Review and the Governmental Recovery of Veterans' Benefits, 118 U. Pa. L. Rev. 288, 291-292 (1969).
Hearing on H. R. 360, 478, 2442 and 6777 before a Subcommittee of the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs, 82d Cong., 2d Sess., 1963 (1952).
Hearing, supra, n. 11, at 1962-1963.
"Congress, which is under no obligation to carve out the conscientious objector exemption for military training, see United States v. Macintosh, 1931, 283 U.S. 605, 624; Gillette v. United States, 1971, 401 U.S. 437, 457, 461 n. 23, has nevertheless done so. Perhaps this exemption from military training reflects a congressional judgment that conscientious objectors simply could not be trained for duty; but it is equally plausible that the exemption reflects a congressional determination to respect individual conscience. See United States v. Macintosh, supra, 283 U. S. at 633 ([Hughes,] C. J., dissenting). Given the solicitous regard that Congress has manifested for conscientious objectors, it would seem presumptuous of a court to subject the educational benefits legislation to strict scrutiny on the basis of the `suspect classification' theory, whose underlying rationale is that, where legislation affects discrete and insular minorities, the presumption of constitutionality fades because traditional political processes may have broken down." 352 F. Supp., at 855.