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U.S. Immigration Services Believes an Atheist Can’t Be a Conscientious Objector?
A Texas woman who lived in the United States for 30 years recently applied to become a naturalized citizen, but she hit a snag when she indicated she was a conscientious objector.
According to Raw Story, naturalized citizens must swear an oath to bear arms in defense of the nation, but a person can be exempt if they claim their right not to fight on grounds of freedom of thought, conscience or religion.
When 65-year-old Margaret Doughty made that claim, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Houston told her she has until Friday to give them a letter proving she is “a member in good standing” of a church that opposes the right to bear arms. The letter must be on “official church stationery.”
But Doughty, who is originally from the United Kingdom, does not belong to a church. She was told without the letter she would be denied naturalization at her June 21 hearing.
Two atheist groups came to Doughty’s aid. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center sent letters to the Houston office indicating that legal action would be taken if Doughty is not acknowledged as a conscientious objector simply because she does not belong to a church.
On her application, Doughty explained her stance as a conscientious objector: “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.”
“It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption,” wrote Andrew L. Seidel, a staff attorney for Freedom From Religion Foundation. “This is a longstanding part of our law and every USCIS officer should receive training on this exemption … Either the officers in Houston are inept, or they are deliberately discriminating against nonreligious applicants for naturalization.”
Doughty’s life’s work has been to put an end to illiteracy. She founded a nonprofit call Literary Powerline. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II recognized her outstanding work.
“Over the past two days not only good friends but people I don’t even know have sent notes of support,” Doughty wrote on Facebook on Sunday. “They are people with a wide range of beliefs, beliefs that I respect — Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics and others. I think that is part of what has always appealed to me about America — that people of all beliefs can live together accepting and respecting each other and working together for the common good.”