Foundation Takes on Bizarre Trio of Federal Violations

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has sent official letters of complaint to the federal government over the bizarre introduction of religion into new passports and Social Security application interviews, as well as the immigration process.

  • It appears that a change in policy at the Social Security Administration sometime during the Bush Administration now requires citizens applying for Social Security benefits to respond to a mandatory question about whether they have baptismal records.

The violation came to light when Foundation members in South Dakota applied in person for the husband’s benefits. Although he had produced his birth certificate, he was then asked: “Was a religious record of your birth made before you were age 5?” When he objected to answering that invasive question, he was told the application process could not continue unless he answered it, and that all applications nationwide contain the question and require an answer.

Queries to the Social Security Administration have verified the policy.

On behalf of the Foundation and the couple, attorney James A. Friedman has written the Administration asking it to remove the question:

“The question on the application concerning religious records appears to favor religious applicants over nonreligious and applicants of certain religious faiths who create such records over others who do not. The Constitution prohibits such favoritism. The application question unnecessarily invades on the privacy interests of applicants, forcing them to divulge information about their and their family’s personal religious beliefs or lack of beliefs.

“We ask that the Administration immediately amend the benefit application process to exclude the question concerning religious records of birth for applicants who are able to provide official government records,” wrote Friedman.

  • The Foundation also has been fielding complaints from its members and members of the public over the introduction of religion into passports issued since August 2007. The U.S. Electronic Passport, called an e-passport, is the same as a regular passport, but contains a computer chip embedded in the back cover. The e-pass, according to the U.S. Department of State website, “also has a new look, incorporating additional anti-fraud and security features” . . . as well as religion.

Pages reserved for visa stamps include three religious quotes.

In addition to a quote by Thomas Jefferson from the Declaration of Independence incorporating the word “Creator,” U.S. passports also quote:

  • “We have a great dream. It started way back in 1776, and God grant that America will be true to her dream.–Martin Luther King, Jr.”
  • “May God continue the unity of our country as the railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.–Inscribed on the Golden Spike, Promontory Point, 1869.”

“We ask that the Department of State immediately remove these references to God from new passports and related documents,” wrote attorney James A. Friedman on behalf of the Foundation in early June.

  • Also in June, the Foundation wrote the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asking it to drop mention of a deity from its “Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens.” The Foundation made the request on behalf of several complainants seeking U.S. citizenship, who were dismayed to be confronted with a religious test for citizenship. The oath to swear in new citizens ends “so help me God.”

The Foundation pointed out that Title 8 of the Code of Federal Regulations actually provides for a secular affirmation for “any reasons of good conscience.” The words “shall solemnly affirm” can be substituted for the word “oath,” and “so help me God” can be deleted to protect personal conscience. The policy handbook for officials presiding over the naturalization process advises: “This modification may be granted upon the applicant’s request. Applicants are not required to provide documentary evidence or extensive testimony to support a request for this type of modification.”

“The problem,” noted Foundation co-president Annie Laurie Gaylor in her letter of complaint to the director of the immigration office, “is that these rights are not delineated at the webpage listing the actual oath. It therefore amounts to a situation in which the federal government appears to favor those those who believe in a god over those who do not, which is a violation of the law.”

Gaylor said it is not an individual problem, it is a constitutional right, and should not be left up to individuals to speak up, complain or find the right official or judge in order to honor their request.

Ideally the Office should “drop the unnecessary religious oath altogether.” After all, the U.S. Constitution itself is godless, and prohibits a religious test for public office (Art. 6).

“It seems ironic and dismaying that new citizens should be routinely expected to make a religious oath in order to become citizens of our secular republic. This hardly engenders a respect for the constitutional principle of separation between church and state that is the bedrock of our nation,” Gaylor added.

The Foundation asked that the immigration office, at minimum, include full references to the right to affirm or to avoid swearing to a god wherever the religious oath appears or is used–whether at a government website, on the actual form, or during the naturalization ceremony itself.

Thanks to North Carolina attorney George Daly, who has been representing a Foundation member in that state who wishes to avoid the religious oath. Daly has also written officials about the lack of information available over the rights of applicants to avoid the oath.

You can write:
U.S. Citizenship and
Immigration Services
c/o U.S. Department of
Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528

Freedom From Religion Foundation