Margaret Doughty, a 64-year-old British atheist, finally had her U.S. citizenship application approved on Thursday, following a kerfuffle with U.S. immigration officials in which she was told she needed to be religious in order to be a conscientious objector. The U.S. citizenship oath process requires applicants to respond either that they would fight for one’s country or to provide proof of one’s inability to bear arms, due to disability or religious belief.
The current oath in place does not specifically extend the conscientious objectors status to atheists. It does however specifically allow religious conscientious objectors to take a modified oath — one that reflects the applicant’s religious objection to bearing arms on behalf of the U.S.
Without any religious affiliation, Doughty was unable to produce such documentation and thus, was unable to take a modified oath. She was reportedly ordered by the Houston U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, which processed her application to either provide “that she was ‘a member in good standing’ of a nonviolent religious organization or be denied citizenship at her June 21 hearing.”
Doughty reasoned that she should qualify for the status since her “beliefs [to not take another person’s life] are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God.” The Freedom From Religious Foundation, who voiced its support for her called the action of the Houston USCIS office which handled her case, “illegal and unconstitutional.” The American Humanist Association, which also supported her cause, noted that the Supreme Court includes secular moral beliefs as a “similar importance” to religious beliefs.
Naturalization laws and the citizenship oath has been around since 1790. But perhaps it is time to rethink the “bear arms” provision, especially when Doughty exceeds the maximum age (42-years-old) to enlist in the military. As Doughty points out the “law would never require a 64 year old woman like myself to bear arms.”