U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Must End Religious Discrimination, Says Americans United

For Immediate Release

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Must End Religious Discrimination, Says Americans United

Denial Of Citizenship To Atheist Margaret Doughty Is Latest Example of Failure To Accommodate All Beliefs, Church-State Watchdog Group Says

WASHINGTON - In a letter sent to the USCIS today, Americans United said the federal agency is continuing to discriminate on the basis of religion by failing to offer legally required accommodations from parts of the citizenship oath that are inconsistent with some applicants’ beliefs about religion.

The letter was written in response to news reports about Margaret Doughty, a 64-year-old British woman who has lived in the United States for 30 years and sought U.S. citizenship. When asked if she would take up arms in defense of the United States, she said no because she has a moral objection to war. But since she is an atheist, she was told she must join a church in order to qualify as a conscientious objector or her application for citizenship would be denied.

The church-state watchdog group explained that individuals do not have to join an organized religion in order to raise a valid conscientious objection to the portion of the oath of citizenship that requires individuals to promise to take up arms on behalf of the United States.

This is just the latest example of USCIS’ failure to accommodate beliefs about religion through an alternate citizenship oath, Americans United says. AU has written nine previous letters to immigration officials between 2004 and 2010 expressing similar concerns.

Today’s letter, like some previous AU missives, also expressed concern that individuals seeking citizenship have not been granted exemption from swearing an oath as well as using the phrase “so help me God.”

Americans United asked that USCIS employees be given proper training to ensure that incidents like these are not repeated, and requested a response within 30 days.

“It is patently unconstitutional for the U.S. government to impose a religious test for citizenship,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. “The United States should not deny citizenship to people simply because of their beliefs about religion.”

Atheist conscientious objectors like Doughty are eligible for an oath exemption, the letter says, even if they do not belong to a house of worship. The U.S. Supreme Court has said anyone with an objection based on “religious training and belief” may be excluded, and has said that exemptions may be given even to those who do not “belong to any religious group or adhere to the teachings of any organized religion.”

Thanks to public outcry, a hearing at which Doughty reportedly would have needed to prove that she is “a member in good standing” of a nonviolent religious organization to be granted citizenship was cancelled and her application has been approved.

The letter today was written by Americans United Legal Director Ayesha N. Khan, Senior Litigation Counsel Gregory M. Lipper and Staff Attorney Ian Smith.

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Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

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