Immigration

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

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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.