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Humanist Legal Center Helps Atheist in Quest for U.S. Citizenship

Margaret Doughty No Longer Required to Get Letter from a Church

For Immediate Release

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

(Washington, DC, June 20, 2013) — U.S. immigration officials have reversed their demand that an atheist woman applying for U.S. citizenship get a letter from a church to justify her request to opt out of the requirement that she “bear arms” in defense of the United States. 

The reversal comes after Margaret Doughty, 64, was assisted by the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center in her fight to defend her constitutional right to assert a secular moral basis for her conscientious objector status, rather than a religious one. Ms. Doughty has been a legal resident of the U.S. for over 30 years.

“The Constitution requires that secular beliefs and religious beliefs be treated equally under the law, and we’re pleased that officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have reversed course and recognized this,” said Bill Burgess, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We hope Margaret Doughty’s case ensures that non-religious applicants for U.S. citizenship are treated fairly.”

A letter was sent by the Appignani Humanist Legal Center to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials June 17 outlining the Supreme Court rulings that require the government to treat secular and religious conscientious objectors alike.

In response to the AHA letter and many other letters, the USCIS decided to reverse course and withdraw its request for evidence, stating to Ms. Doughty in an e-mail sent this afternoon: “In light of the full explanation in support for your request for an exemption from bearing arms as it relates to the naturalization oath, this Service hereby withdraws the request for evidence (RFE) issued on June 7, 2013.  This Service accepts your detailed statement in satisfaction of the information requested by the RFE.  Your application for naturalization has been approved.”

As soon as Margaret received this e-mail, she called AHA's attorney Monica Miller. “I am truly grateful for all of the wonderful support I have received in this process,” Margaret said to Miller. Margaret added, "I think the AHA letter swayed everything." 

During the steps required to becoming a naturalized citizen, Doughty openly expressed her objection to warfare to immigration officials because part of the process includes an oath of loyalty which, in part, requires 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.


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.