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Atheist Applies For U.S. Citizenship, Told to Get Letter From a Church

Immigration Officials Deny Secular Conscientious Objector Status, Says Humanist Legal Center

For Immediate Release

Contact: William Burgess, bburgess@americanhumanist.org, 202-238-9088 x 102

(Washington, DC, June 18, 2013) — The American Humanist Association's Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent a letter yesterday on behalf of atheist Margaret Doughty to immigration officials regarding an unconstitutional demand that her application for naturalized citizenship include proof of a religious basis when she objected to a pledge that she “bear arms” in defense of the United States.

Margaret Doughty, 64, has been a legal resident of the U.S. for over 30 years and is in the process of becoming a naturalized citizen. She has expressed her objection to warfare to immigration officials. A part of the process includes an oath of loyalty, including, in part, a pledge that the new citizen would bear arms in the county’s defense. The law permits those who object to doing so for moral reasons to omit this portion of the oath. Despite U.S. Supreme Court rulings that require a secular exemption be offered, she has been required to present a letter by June 21 from a church to justify her objection.

“In order to comply with the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of conscience, references to 'religious belief' in federal immigration law have been interpreted by the Supreme Court to include secular moral beliefs,” said Bill Burgess, coordinator of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We are happy to represent Margaret Doughty in this case and will be working to make sure the government to which she wishes to swear loyalty will respect her constitutional rights.”

When asked if she would take up arms in defense of the United States, Ms. Doughty said, in part:

“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.”

The letter has been sent to officials with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Houston, TX.

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The American Humanist Association (www.americanhumanist.org) advocates for the rights and viewpoints of humanists. Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Washington D.C., its work is extended through more than 160 local chapters and affiliates across the United States. Special thanks to the Louis J. Appignani Foundation and The Herb Block Foundation for their support of the Appignani Humanist Legal Center.

Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms a responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity.

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