When Adriana Ramirez, a legal immigrant living in California, applied for citizenship, she wrote that she is a “conscientious objector” who will not bear arms for the United States because of her secularism. In late January, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services officials rejected her application because her “unwillingness is not based on religious training or belief.” But on Thursday, Ramirez sent a letter to the federal immigration agency to reverse its decision or risk a legal challenge.
The U.S. citizenship oath process requires applicants to renounce allegiance to other countries while promising to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law” and to “perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law.” But applicants who have a conscientious objection can request to take a modified oath in which they would have to provide proof of one’s inability to bear arms, due to opposing “any type of service,” religious belief, or that “his or her beliefs are sincere, meaningful, and deeply held.”
In her letter submitted by the American Humanist Association, Ramirez objected to the “pledge to bear arms on the basis of her sincerely held moral convictions” citing a 1965 Supreme Court ruling which held that secular moral beliefs were as valid a basis for conscientious objection as religious belief. She also requested that the agency allow her to take an “alternative affirmation.”
“As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out,” Ramirez wrote in a notarized statement in support of her application. “But checking ‘yes’ on Q36-38 would be a betrayal of everything I have stood for from a very early age. I have strong and sincere moral convictions against arms and killing people.”
In late January, the USCIS denied Ramirez’s application based solely on her objection to bear arms, stating, “you submitted a notarized statement, citing deep moral convictions as the basis for your unwillingness to take the full oath of allegiance [sic]. Applicants for naturalization seeking an exemption from parts of the oath of allegiance [sic] must be based on religious training and belief: as defined by Section 337 of the INA. . . . [Y]our unwillingness is not based on religious training and belief.”
Last summer, British atheist Margaret Doughty found herself in a nearly identical quandary when USCIS denied her application when she was unable to provide proof of her conscientious objector status on “official church stationery” to show that “[she is] a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.” After much criticism and intervention by Sen. Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Doughty’s application was approved.