Reversing two earlier denials, the U.S Navy has granted conscientious objector status to Michael Izbicki, a Naval Academy graduate most recently stationed at the Naval Submarine School in Groton.

Izbicki, 24, filed a lawsuit in federal court in Hartford in November, asking for an honorable discharge as a conscientious objector, contending that the Navy's hearings on his two requests were deeply flawed with legal, factual and procedural errors.

Deborah H. Karpatkin, a New York City attorney who represented Izbicki along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut, said the Navy offered no explanation of why it overruled its earlier decisions.

"The Navy has finally looked properly at the entire record in this case and now correctly recognized that Michael Izbicki is a sincere conscientious objector based on his religious beliefs against participation in war in any form," Karpatkin said.

Mike McLellan, a spokesman for the Navy Personnel Command, said in a statement released Tuesday evening that the third review of the case "determined there was sufficient evidence to satisfy the requirements for CO designation, and determined that it was in the Navy's best interests to discharge him and seek recoupment of his Navy-funded educational expenses."

The reversal, announced Tuesday, means that Izbicki has been given an honorable discharge.

It was not an outcome that Izbicki could have imagined as a teenager entering the Naval Academy in 2004, determined to have a career as an officer, he said in a recent interview.

Growing up in San Clemente, Calif., Izbicki was enthralled by the stories both his grandfathers told of serving in World War II. Then came the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

"That really made me feel like now is the time to serve my country," he said.

While in high school, Izbicki also began a long and sometimes arduous quest to develop his religious beliefs. He started attending a nondenominational church and eventually read the Bible from cover to cover.

A standout student and voracious reader, he studied the religions of the world as his identity as a Christian grew. While at the academy, he attended campus services, went to an off-campus Baptist church and engaged his friends in marathon discussions on faith and belief, he said.

Even when he graduated from the Naval Academy as an ensign in 2008, he said he saw no conflict between his religious beliefs and military service.

But after being assigned to submarine training in South Carolina, he was given a routine psychological exam. Among the several hundred questions, he was asked if he could launch a nuclear missile.

"It was the first time anybody had really put it so bluntly," he said. "At that point I thought to myself, I couldn't."

That answer flagged him for further interviews with a Navy psychologist, who recommended that he talk to a Navy chaplain. After numerous meetings, Izbicki said the chaplain suggested that he might be a conscientious objector - a term he only vaguely knew - and gave him an application to study.

Izbicki said he eventually decided that his Christian beliefs forbid him from killing. He initially hoped he could continue his career in a noncombat role, but ultimately decided he could not support war in any way, he said.

But two Navy investigations, the second after he was assigned to the Naval Submarine School in Groton, questioned the depth and duration of his beliefs.

"There is insufficient evidence to definitively link his conscientious objector beliefs to a sincere and deeply held conviction versus a desire to avoid military service outside of the academic military environment in which Ensign Izbicki has been immersed for the past six years," his commanding officer in Groton wrote.

But Izbicki's lawyer said that two Navy chaplains, three civilian-ordained clergy and two academic theologians have affirmed the "depth and sincerity" of his beliefs.

After moving to Connecticut, Izbicki had started worshipping with the Westerly Quaker Meeting in Rhode Island. Karpatkin said the investigators used their own religious beliefs to judge Izbicki's. One asserted that Quakers did not believe in Jesus Christ and implied that the faith was a cult.

Andrew Schneider, executive director of the ACLU-CT, said, "This victory for religious freedom demonstrates that conscientious objector status must be taken seriously."

From 2002 to 2006, the active and reserve service branches reported handling 425 applications for conscientious objector status, according to the most recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. It reported that 53 percent of the applications were approved, 44 percent denied and the remainder pending or closed.

In the Navy, it is rare for officers to seek conscientious objector status. McLellan said that seven officers have applied since 2003 and all were approved. In the same period, 84 enlisted personnel applied and 45 were granted.

A condition of his discharge is that Izbicki must reimburse the Navy for his education, something he has promised to do all along. He said he has yet to be told how much that will be.

Izbicki said he plans to return to California, where he wants to find a way to use what he has learned in the Navy to serve his country in a peaceful way.

"I think, looking back, it would have been impossible at any given time to tell that this was what was going to happen," he said. "But it also makes sense that one step kind of led to the other and this was the result."