FFRF stood up for equal rights for the nonreligious by forcing the U.S. Office of Customs and Immigration Services to strike an unconstitutional requirement for religious documentation that would have barred an atheist from becoming a citizen.
Margaret Doughty, 64, an atheist and 30-year U.S. resident who was born in Great Britain, applied to the Houston customs office to become a citizen. She has permanent resident status while running nonprofit adult literacy organizations. All citizenship applicants must take an oath to bear arms for this country before full citizenship is granted. Exemptions are permitted for those who object to war based on “religious training and belief.”
FFRF Staff Attorney Andrew Seidel wrote USCIS in a June 14 letter noting that U.S. Supreme Court precedent does not require any religious test to receive an exemption to bear arms. “This exemption requires only a deeply held belief in not bearing arms or serving in the armed forces. Anything more, such as a requirement to document the belief with a particular church, is a gross violation of the law and the Constitution,” Seidel wrote.
Doughty asked for an exemption to the oath: “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.”
The Houston office admitted the sincerity of Doughty’s belief, but required her to submit religious documentation, including a letter from her church stating when she joined and was baptized and how the congregation’s teaching bar members from taking the Oath of Allegiance.
As an atheist, Doughty could not produce official documentation or her religious beliefs, so she got in touch with FFRF.
FFRF requested Doughty be granted an exemption and also asked for a full investigation into the illegal requirements for her and other nonreligious applicants. On June 20, Doughty was informed that her case was “escalated to the highest level at USCIS” and the “request for evidence” (the religious documentation) was withdrawn. In a phone conversation with Seidel, Doughty expressed her gratitude for FFRF’s prompt action in defense of atheists.
FFRF still has concerns, noted Seidel. “How many other applicants without Ms. Doughty’s experience, level of cultural immersion and grasp of English have had, or will have, a similar burden imposed on them? We intend to pursue this matter with USCIS until the ineptitude or discrimination is rooted out of that office. Nonbelievers are welcome in America.”
Doughty received this notice from the government:
“This Service has carefully and thoroughly reviewed your naturalization case and the documentation received from the office of [Texas] Congressman Blake Farenthold. 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 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. Attached is a notice informing you that you have been scheduled to be naturalized on Wednesday, June 26, 2013. Please follow the instructions on the notice. Congratulations.”