Atheist Permanent Resident Told To Join Church Or Have Citizenship Application Rejected


Credit: Frydolin/wikimedia

I became an American citizen on April Fool's day 2009 after having moved to the U.S. from the U.K. (for the third time) in 2000. While the authorities didn't exactly make the process easy for me or my family I was very happy to stand with others from around the world to take an oath that made us all Americans after years of bureaucratic nonsense. Quite rightly, throughout the whole processes I was never told to join a particular religion, something I would have found particularly unpleasant considering that I'm an atheist.

Part of the oath to become a U.S. citizen includes promising to take up arms for the U.S. if called upon to do so by the government. Margaret Doughty, who has been a permanent resident for longer than I have been alive, is being told by officials that her application to become a naturalized U.S. citizen could be thrown out if she doesn't join a church that forbids violence.

Doughty happens to be an atheist who is morally opposed to war, and so objects to the part of the citizenship oath that requires you pledge to take up arms if the government asks you to do so. Evidently, American authorities only accept objections to war as legitimate if your objections are based on religious beliefs.

Doughty has explained she is willing to serve in noncombat roles if asked to do so:

I am sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest. The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or in the bearing of arms. I deeply and sincerely believe that it is not moral or ethical to take another person's life, and my lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs impose on me a duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms … my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God … I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.

It's absurd that objections to warfare have be be grounded in a religion in order to become an American citizen. Thankfully, The American Humanist Association is threatening litigation.

H/T Reason Foundation intern Daniel Bier.

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  1. It’s absurd that objections to warfare have be be grounded in a religion in order to become an American citizen.

    The FSM forbids killing bacteria. Believers have to give up their immune systems.

  2. Bender: I refuse to fight, I’m a conscientious objector.
    Fry: A what?
    Bender: You know, a coward.

    1. And this ham gum is all bones!

  3. facepalm…and deep tired sigh!

  4. Jesus Christ!

  5. I am sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest.

    This is very confusing. I thought that Atheists had no moral compass, and lacking the guiding hand of a creator and faith, would engage in mayhem and general libertarian behavior. Amirite?

    1. All true.

      But we are waiting to gain absolute power before sending all the believers to the camps.

      Meanwhile, we lie.

      1. See Hitler and Stalin for reference.

        1. Hitler was an atheist? Was that why the highest Nazi military honor was The Iron Cross?

          1. Don’t forget all those Hindu swastikas.

          2. Apparently, he was all into the occult and new age spirituality.

            In other words, Hitler was a hippie.

          3. Even if–and I do mean if–Hitler was an atheist, it was still a bunch of Catholics and Lutherans actually shoving the people into the gas chambers.

  6. ummm pretty sure she was rejected for not swearing to protect the nation she is applying to become a citizen of.

    I fail to see why this a problem and i fail to see why her application should not be rejected.

    This seems pretty rudimentary. Why should a nation take in people who refuse to defend it?

    Anyway I would not oppose removing the provision but at the same time i really do not see a problem with it.

    1. Yes, those 64-year-old women need to man up, take up their rifles, and go fight for this country. For one thing, that will lower their life expectancy and save on Social Security costs.

    2. Why should a nation take in people who refuse to defend it?

      When “defense” equates to exploding people who are no threat, people who might even be your relatives who weren’t lucky enough to be blessed with legal immigrant status, I can understand the objection to the oath.

      If it’s a good enough reason for me, a natural citizen, to not be forced to serve then I don’t see why immigrants should be held to a different standard.

    3. Except they’re perfectly willing to let her pass if she claims a RELIGIOUS objection instead of a NON-religious objection. THAT’S the problem.

      1. I think the problem is (or was – see below) that they insisted on some kind of affiliation with an organized religious body, which isn’t in the statute. There are non-theistic churches, but the statute doesn’t require that the objector belong to any particular church.

    4. What about people who are born in the territory a government claims who don’t want to join that government’s military? Aren’t they automatically considered citizens? How are they any different?

    5. Uhm, then are you willing to strip citizenship from all those born here who oppose war?

      I don’t see why vowing to take up arms *for* the country should be required – either the US is worth fighting for, in which case people will, or its not, in which case forcing people to fight for it is wrong.

      That’s kinda the part of the the whole “land of the free” thing we got going on.

      1. This, pretty much. I’m shocked to see the the controversy is about the religious bit and not about the indentured servitude bit.

  7. This is consistent with the administration’s highly grudging approach to religious freedom. They really don’t want to acknowledge many religiously-based exemptions from the law, even if such exemptions seem to be justified by the constitution and statutes.

    They lost 9-0 in the Supreme Court, and were forced to allow an exemption for ministerial employees of a religious institution.

    They continue to fight to deny any exemption under the “contraceptive” mandate to any religious institution which serves the general public.

    Although the citizenship law seems to close the door to atheists –

    “A person may oppose to bear arms based on “religious training and belief.” This term, according to INA ? 337(a)(C), means “an individual’s belief in relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.””…..0712901825

    BUT this is of dubious constitutionality, and anyway the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, I would presume, takes some of the sting out of this by providing respect for the religious beliefs of atheists.

    1. PLUS, the statute says nothing about membership in a traditional peace church; the exemption applies to people whose conscientious beliefs are based on their individual conscience.

      1. PLUS there’s an interpretation of the “Supreme Being” clause which takes nontheistic ethical beliefs into account.

        1. But that interpretation is bogus. Non-theistic ethical beliefs don’t include a Supreme Being.

          1. What if you believe in superior, but not supreme, beings?

          2. Bogus or not, it has some Supreme Court support.

  8. “Please submit a letter on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that you are a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”

    A member in good standing? WTF is that anyhow? You’re up to date on your dues? You gave the minister’s daughter an orgasm? What?

    There’s gotta be some Pastafarian letterhead out there somewhere…

    1. You gave the minister’s daughter an orgasm?

      Could you point me to this church? I think the Holy Spirit has finally found me.

  9. The humanists should just bite the bullet, so to speak, and organize as an atheistic religion.

    1. Yeah. And then after them the No Unicorns Church can form and spend Wednesday nights talking about how there are no unicorns and how they couldn’t give a shit.

      1. They don’t lack beliefs, they have them, and strongly enough in some cases that they would reject ordinary civic duties on their account and feel it should be protected under freedom of conscience. Humanism isn’t simple apathetic atheism, it provides the same sort of shared moral framework that religion does for other people, only without a divine being.

    2. The humanists should just bite the bullet, so to speak, and organize as an atheistic religion.

      They already have.

  10. considering that I’m an atheist

    Well, who’s fault is that?

    1. Not to mention “whose”

    2. Peronally, I blame God for creating me as an atheist.

      1. That fucker’s always been out to get me.

  11. Hate to shit on the outrage party here, but the gov’t retracted it’s requirement and has allowed her to become a citizen:

    Here’s the follow-up story.

    I can hear it already:

    “Yeah! But still…”

    1. They backtracked after the media, and the woman’s Congressman, raised a fuss. Their position was highly untenable to start with, and when it was exposed they would have had a heck of a time defending it.

      Of course, you would think the same factors would apply to the HHS and its attempt to force religious groups to provide “contraceptive” drugs to their employees.

    2. Not sure what “outrage” comments you’ve been reading – most have been tongue-in-cheek. But, I’ll chime in with my “but still”. Your link doesn’t show that any law has been changed, nor that any court case has been filed. It was simply a retraction for this single case. Have all the other cases denying citizenship for this reason been retroactively approved? Will future cases follow this new guideline? Even for that 20 year-old able-bodied person?

      In any case, this is a far more “who gives a shit” argument than the Stossel-Napolitano one.

  12. Way back when… I was in college and the Vietnam War was raging and the draft was looming, I was wrestling with what to do. I was considering the conscientious objector route but had two problems: 1. I wasn’t sure that rejected ALL wars as morally wrong, although this one and lots of others clearly were. 2. An atheistic (or agnostic, depending on what day it was) was not able to claim this status. At the time, at least, it had to be a religiously based objection. My pint is simply that this is not new.

    1. I would have hopped in a canoe and paddled to Canada. But that was before they built the border fence across the North Woods.

  13. An atheistic (or agnostic, depending on what day it was)

    Does “Meh” count as a religious affiliation? I think that’s what I am.

  14. I am a Christian and this stuff pisses me off to high heaven. What good is a religion if you have to force people to join? Some of the best people I have ever known have been non-believers and some of the worst professed faith (I am in that group).

    1. It’s so good, it’s mandatory!

  15. In Texas, you have to express belief in a Divine Being/Higher Power in writing if you want to run for government office.

  16. Is it just me, or is it uninspiring when someone says “I REFUSE to shoot people. But I have no problem working to help other people shoot people.”

  17. It’s interesting to see the tables turned on atheists. Normally, religious people have their convictions arrogantly dismissed for flowing from a religious worldview, but this person is having her convictions arrogantly dismissed for flowing from an atheist worldview.

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