Atheist Denied Citizenship Because Her Morality Doesn’t Come From Religion

-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger

USCISMargaret Doughty, a 64-year old woman originally from the UK, and living in the US for 30+ years applied for US citizenship. She was asked, like all candidates, if they’d be willing to take up arms in defense of the United States of America. She responded that her “duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms … my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God.” The USCIS in Houston, Texas, informed Doughty that conscientious objection must be based on religious grounds and she was to “submit a letter on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that you are a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”

The Oath of renunciation and allegiance, 8 U.S.C. 1448(a)(5), requires applicants for naturalization to “(A) to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law, or (B) to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law, or (C) to perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.” An exception to this oath is:

a person who shows by clear and convincing evidence to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that he is opposed to the bearing of arms in the Armed Forces of the United States by reason of religious training and belief shall be [exempt]. The term “religious training and belief” as used in this section shall mean an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.

However, in United States v. Seeger (1965), a 9-0 Supreme Court case involving claims of conscientious objectors under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, provided a test to language identical to that found above. In the opinion of the Court, granting Seeger the exception, J. Clark wrote:

We recognize the difficulties that have always faced the trier of fact in these cases. We hope that the test that we lay down proves less onerous. The examiner is furnished a standard that permits consideration of criteria with which he has had considerable experience. While the applicant’s words may differ, the test is simple of application. It is essentially an objective one, namely, does the claimed belief occupy the same place in the life of the objector as an orthodox belief in God holds in the life of one clearly qualified for exemption?

Doughty’s situation is also similar to that of Elliot Ashton Welsh II in the Supreme Court case: Welsh v. United States (1969). Welsh applied for conscientious objector status when the Selective Service found him fit to serve. Welsh’s objection was also not rooted in any religious beliefs. A 5-3 Court (J. Blackmun not participating) held that Welsh could claim conscientious objector status even though he professes no religious-based objection. J. Black wrote in the majority opinion:

In view of the broad scope of the word “religious,” a registrant’s characterization of his beliefs as “nonreligious” is not a reliable guide to those administering the exemption.

After intervention by Andrew L. Seidel (pdf) of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association, and Doughty’s local Congressman, Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Doughty’s application for naturalization has been approved.

H/T: Hemant Mehta, Kevin Davis, Nick Wing, Eric W. Dolan.

37 thoughts on “Atheist Denied Citizenship Because Her Morality Doesn’t Come From Religion

  1. Come on people… This nation was founded by foreigners…. What’s the real issue here….

  2. Anne Laurie Gaylor to the rescue. This is one crusade where I agree w/ FFR. I would have thought the new citizen refusing to fight would have been from France.

  3. As a Texan I am apalled that she was told to find a church! The separation of church and state is a thin line in my state. I am an atheist but I keep it to myself. Bad enough being a Democrat in a red state!

  4. Citizenship denied….. because all of these ‘Moral’ religious, people are all way too busy starting new wars, in foreign lands, to grant a ‘Humanist’ citizenship….. What a hateful bunch….

  5. After intervention by Andrew L. Seidel (pdf) of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, the American Humanist Association, and Doughty’s local Congressman, Blake Farenthold (R-TX), Doughty’s application for naturalization has been approved.

    The bottom line.

    Protest is required when luddites are “doin’ a heckuva job.”

  6. I saw this story earlier in the week and was appalled. When I was in the 8th grade Civics was required. Don’t people take Civics any more? If they did, they obviously are not learning anything. Since they are now “teaching to the test,” meaning the Gateway Testing which is required for graduating from high school, the Bill of Rights should be on the test. There really are no words.

    A couple of years ago, magician/illusionist Randi was being interviewed on NPRs All Things Considered one afternoon. They were taking calls, and some caller informed Randi that since he is an atheist, he could not possibly have morals or ethics, that one must be religious to have morals. How do you respond to something like that. Randi was gracious in his response, but the stupid, it burns!

    I would like to ask the judge in a case like that if it would be OK to get a letter from such morally upright religious figures like Jimmy Swaggart, Fred Phelps, Creflo Dollar or Jeffery Dale Williams. (you can Google little Jeffy if his name does not ring a bell).

  7. Two branches to this story:

    1) In the same way that there shall be no religious test for public office, there shall be no religious test for entrance into citizenship: at least if one is looking for consistency in that whole “We the People” thing;

    2) While I fervently disagree with her (and others’) view regarding not fighting for the country, I defend her (pending, relative to the US) right to have that view.

    Such disagreement and capacity to criticize freely is exactly the reason why our country is so strong: and it reinforces why anyone wishes to become a US citizen.

    That being said, we live in a continuation of time when such freedom needs defending. War isn’t going away. Threats aren’t going away. And though it’s true that if everyone were a pacifist, war would be eradicated, that is not the case. And in the meantime, many groups and countries — particularly those with theocratic regimes — seek world domination, presently manifested in the form of regional conflict.

    The West therefore must fight back. We must fight those who threaten us and those who actually harm us. Communistic and religious and totalitarian ideologies and systems of government are at odds with secularism and democracy and individual liberty. And if we wish to enjoy the fruits of freedom, fought for throughout US history, then each of us may have to continue that fight.

    Admittedly I’m not selfless enough to enter the military and go to war (most of us fall into this category) — but if the country called for it, or a draft imposed, I’d take up arms at any age to preserve the most remarkable country in history.

  8. Interesting case, some interesting comments, but I’ve gotta say that considering what’s going on in the country today there is a growing part of me that wants to say don’t we have enough people sucking up free air and not willing to put any skin in the game.

  9. “Margaret Doughty, a 64-year old woman originally from the UK, and living in the US for 30+ years applied for US citizenship. She was asked, like all candidates, if they’d be willing to take up arms in defense of the United States of America.”

    Wait a minute, doesn’t anyone see the irony of asking a 64 year old whether they would be willing to fight to defend the country? Where would she enlist if need be. Is the question eliciting whether she would fire upon invaders of the U.S. if called upon, or are we contemplating a geriatric branch of our armed forces. Generic, one size fits all questions lead to absurdities such as this. Ms
    Doughty’s “error” was that she simply didn’t answer “yes” knowing that the question really didn’t apply to her. Rather than being deceptive she answered with her conscience, which in today’s America is becoming an act that might get a person punished. While I understand that the “take up arms” question is really to elicit ones commitment to this country, I think it should be couched in different, less militant terms, or not at all. The whole citizenship question is a morass. Rupert Murdoch miraculously became a U.S. citizen when he was trying to start a TV network and therefore required it, even though his prime residences are in London, Sydney and Beijing. At the same time the immigration service will scrupulously investigate each married couple to see if their marriage is real, before granting citizenship to the foreign spouse.

  10. “but I’ve gotta say that considering what’s going on in the country today there is a growing part of me that wants to say don’t we have enough people sucking up free air and not willing to put any skin in the game.”

    Rgcomega,

    Who exactly are you referring to and how much “skin” do you have in the game?

  11. As Ms. Doughty pointed out, at the age of 64, she is not likely to be called upon to pick up arms against an enemy of the country. I guess from the USCIS standpoint, that is irrelevant, in view of the fact she is not religious. I see the real enemy of our Republic these days as the War on the Constitution.

  12. OS,

    Not only do people not take civics anymore, in most school districts, it’s not even taught anymore.

    I wonder why (he said scratching his chin in mock puzzlement)?

  13. rgcomega,
    I am with Mike Spindell on the questions. What exactly is “skin in the game?” I mean, I have no problem at all with her CO status, and totally disagree with the USCIS administrative law judge who made the idiotic order. As for “skin in the game,” How about the lede photo in my Memorial Day story? Is that enough skin in the game for you?

    http://jonathanturley.org/?s=memorial+day

  14. Here’s the morality of this Christian president: “Increasingly brutal tactics are being used in an attempt to break the hunger strike by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, according to fresh testimony from the last British resident still held in the camp.

    Shaker Aamer claims that the US authorities are systematically making the regime more hardline to try to defuse the strike, which now involves almost two-thirds of the detainees. Techniques include making cells “freezing cold” to accentuate the discomfort of those on hunger strike and the introduction of “metal-tipped” feeding tubes, which Aamer said were forced into inmates’ stomachs twice a day and caused detainees to vomit over themselves.

    The 46-year-old from London tells of one detainee who was admitted to hospital 10 days ago after a nurse had pushed the tube into his lungs rather than his stomach, causing him later to cough up blood. Aamer also alleges that some nurses at Guantánamo Bay are refusing to wear their name tags in order to prevent detainees registering abuse complaints against staff.

    Speaking last week from the camp in Cuba, exactly four months after he joined the hunger strike, Aamer said: “The administration is getting ever more angry and doing everything they can to break our hunger strike. Honestly, I wish I was dead.” (The Guardian)

  15. Gene,
    I checked, and Civics is not part of the curriculum in our local school districts. At least the ones I checked. There may be some I missed, but none I found so far. When I was in school, Civics was required!

    What my youngest kid knows about civics, I taught her, because she certainly did not get it in school.

  16. Dave says:

    “1) In the same way that there shall be no religious test for public office, there shall be no religious test for entrance into citizenship: at least if one is looking for consistency in that whole “We the People” thing;”

    Perfectly in line with the spirit of the law. And the letter for that matter. According to the USCIS, the requirements for naturalized citizenship are (for green card holders):

    Be 18 or older at the time of filing
    Be a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization
    Have lived within the state, or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence, for at least 3 months prior to the date of filing the application
    Have continuous residence in the United States as a green card holder for at least 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
    Be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the 5 years immediately preceding the date of filing the application
    Reside continuously within the United States from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of naturalization
    Be able to read, write, and speak English and have knowledge and an understanding of U.S. history and government (civics).
    Be a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law

    Seems to me that exercising both her right to Free Exercise and our history of recognizing conscientious objectors from pacifist religious traditions other than atheism – which is a valid and protected personal choice under the 1st Amendment – makes her a ” person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law”.

    “2) While I fervently disagree with her (and others’) view regarding not fighting for the country, I defend her (pending, relative to the US) right to have that view.”

    See the above statement about conscientious objectors.

    Way to cut to the heart of things, Dave.

  17. OS,

    Yep. Not only was Civics required when I was in school, my Civics teacher was also my homeroom teacher in 7th grade. One of my favorite teachers ever.

  18. OS, There has been a movement by right thinking people like us to put civics back into the curriculum. I read some time ago more than 80% of schools do not have civics class. When I taught high school history they had no civics class. However, I taught a current events class and infused civics into the lesson plans. A guerilla tactic!

  19. rgcomega,

    “…there is a growing part of me that wants to say don’t we have enough people sucking up free air and not willing to put any skin in the game.”

    Perhaps an MRI, followed by consultation with a physician, would supply a course of action for removal of your abnormal growth.

    As for “free air,” I will suck up all that I feel I need, thanks. Air is free. Note the period at the end of the statement.

    Your remark reminds me of an assertion by a former member of the armed forces, something like, “Every breath you take, you owe to a soldier on a battlefield.”

    Sorry, no. I’m free because I claim my freedom. Armies confer death, not freedom. World War Two was the last declared, “necessary” war. As far as I can tell, even that war was preventable.

    The Revolutionary War ended British colonial status. The war did not make the U.S.A. “free.”
    The British and Canadians and Australians have freedoms of speech and all the rest, without indulging in revolutionary wars.

    And yes, I am everything that’s wrong with ‘Merka,” today.

  20. The real problem is the fact that the denial was simply illegal under the regulations. She clearly made her intentions clear to meet the test and regulations. So the denial was illegal to begin with and it is obvious that the superiors knew this too, which is why her application was approved.

    I am concerned that the employees who made this determination are still employed. The proper disposition of this case should be the termination of the persons who made this ruling against the law and regulations. What they were attempting to do is to impose their own religious test for citizenship ILLEGALLY! Since they have such contempt for our Constitution, it is THEY who should be denied employment since they spit on the oath that they took to support and defend the Constitution.

    Many people on this site including myself, hate the fact that prosecutors, judges and other officials can break the law, their oaths, and suffer no consequences. It is time to start enforcing our laws on such individuals and making sure that they no longer are paid to impose their poitical beliefs illegally on the rest of us. Rather than get upset about the ruling, we should concentrate on firing the persons responsible for this outrage since they are a continuing danger to ourselves and others and the rule of law.

  21. This story is came out last week (an eternity in current news cycles) and the the backlash was instant. She has already been granted her naturalization status.

  22. It appears to me that the judges and justices are improperly attempting to overturn discriminatory legislation by making a pseudo-religion out of atheism. It’s in a good cause but nevertheless illegitimate. The right way to do this is to find that favoring applicants for conscientious objector status who are church members and who object on the basis of church teaching is to constitute in law an establishment of religion and is forbidden under the Constitution.

  23. Customs Official “You want a padre?”

    Immigrant Morant: “No thank you. I’m a Pagan.”

    Customs Official “And you?”

    Immigrant Handcock “What’s a Pagan?”

    Morant “Oh it’s someone who doesn’t believe there is a Divine Being dispensing justice to mankind.”

    Handcock: “I’m a Pagan too.”

  24. “It appears to me that the judges and justices are improperly attempting to overturn discriminatory legislation by making a pseudo-religion out of atheism. ”

    Actually they are properly overturning discriminatory legislation based on the sound legal principles found in the 1st and 14th Amendments. Free Exercise includes the freedom to believe in nothing whether you approve or not.

  25. Although she has now been approved and she is set to be officially naturalized on June 26, it is absolutely ridiculous that anyone had to write a letter to these USCIS officials. Somebody needs to clean out the religious zealots from the Houston office.

    Margaret Doughty Approved For Citizenship As USCIS Backs Down In Flap Over Atheist Opposition To War:

    “The subsequent demand from officials at Doughty’s home USCIS office in Houston drew the ire of atheist groups. The Freedom From Religion Foundation and American Humanist Association sent letters to USCIS on her behalf noting that such a religious test had been found unconstitutional by numerous Supreme Court cases, including Welsh v. United States, which found that a conscientious objector’s beliefs didn’t need to be based in religion.” (A 1970 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 90 S. Ct. 1792, 26 L. Ed. 2d 308, held that a person could be exempted from compulsory military service based solely on moral or ethical beliefs against war.)

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/20/margaret-doughty-approved-citizenship_n_3474981.html?1371774638

  26. I most certainly agree that the religous nuts in the Houston office need to be fired ASAP. There is no excuse for their actions, and is such an obvious violation of the laws and regulations that there can be no excuse of this being a simple “mistake” This comes down to actual malice and wilfull violation of the rules. This is no different from coming in drunk to work, and given the ruling, they may well have done this after having a liquid lunch.

    I hope that the office will set about cleaning house, and will let the rest of us know that the rule of law has been restored.

  27. Morality is being like Jesus is. Religion teaches people who Satan is making a bomb out of the bible. All know what verses religions use doing what Jesus would not do. In their works the atheist is the moral one.

  28. Religion must be kept out of the government and to whatever extent it is already intertwined, it must be removed. The religious fanatics want to turn this country into Afghanistan.
    Gene and OS,
    Civics is not taught because it is not part of the NCLB testing process so districts have no choice but to eliminate it or reduce it considerably in order to make time to study the subjects on the test!.

  29. Get the scales off of your eyes,government supporting what government has supported is religious. Have laws in place that oppress like Jesus did not oppress be religions. There are laws against the clothing optional person, people that have sex too all of them are persecuted made to feel bad if seen doing it. Gays were told at one time that God wanted them dead. zoosexuals are told the same thing. Furries of the furry Fandom were flamed in word and in videos showing furries burning. compare that to what religions wanted to do to jests and lazerus, and you will see a direct correlation between religious mentality and the state mentality and even the mentality of the legal system too.)
    Both in a seemingly rational fashion the call arresting and giving of death good.
    KJV, John 18 >>14,Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
    Mark 14:1-9, the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death, John 12;10 the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death;
    Matthew 12:14:Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. Luke 22:2 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Luke 11:54: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.

    King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
    James,1: 20: 21: for the wrath of man worketh not the rightiouness of God. Whearfor lay apart all filthyness ,and superfluidy of naugtyness.
    PROVERBS, 6:12: A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
    Religions and state being equal in spirit lie as to what naughty is. They have supported that lie for a long time. Indecent exposure laws need to be eliminate never to rise again.

  30. Get the scales off of your eyes. Government supporting what government has supported is religious. Have laws in place that oppress like Jesus did not oppress be religions. There are laws against the clothing optional person, people that have sex too all of them are persecuted made to feel bad if seen doing it. Gays were told at one time that God wanted them dead. zoosexuals are told the same thing. Furries of the furry Fandom were flamed in word and in videos showing furries burning. compare that to what religions wanted to do to jests and lazerus, and you will see a direct correlation between religious mentality and the state mentality and even the mentality of the legal system too.)
    Both in a seemingly rational fashion the call arresting and giving of death good.
    KJV, John 18 >>14,Now Caiaphas was he, which gave counsel to the Jews, that it was expedient that one man should die for the people.
    Mark 14:1-9, the chief priests and the scribes sought how they might take him by craft, and put him to death, John 12;10 the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death;
    Matthew 12:14:Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. Luke 22:2 Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. And the chief priests and scribes sought how they might kill him; for they feared the people. Luke 11:54: Laying wait for him, and seeking to catch something out of his mouth, that they might accuse him.

    King James Bible (Cambridge Ed.)
    James,1: 20: 21: for the wrath of man worketh not the rightiouness of God. Whearfor lay apart all filthyness ,and superfluidy of naugtyness.
    PROVERBS, 6:12: A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
    Religions and state being equal in spirit lie as to what naughty is. They have supported that lie for a long time. Indecent exposure laws need to be eliminate never to rise again.

  31. Why become a “citizen” of a fascist police state that only wants to exploit you, where there are two sets of laws (one for the sociopathic elite, and the other for everyone else), where the Constitution is ignored or by-passed and the Bill of Rights is a thing of the past, where you aren’t even allowed to know what’s in your food (labels often mislead with words like “organic” or “all natural” and GM products don’t have to be labeled), where your bank is insolvent and the money you use is basically scrip, where the entire government is a wholly owned subsidiary of the corporate state, and where you can be discriminated against by bozos who have archaic ideas about religion, love of their fellow man, abortion, sexual orientation, race or ethnicity etc.? Consider yourself lucky, lady.

  32. Wouldn’t it be hypocritical for an atheist to have anything to do with morality? What’s the point? If an atheist thinks there is no God, why be moral? Unless an atheist is trying to keep secular “moral” standards which isn’t a standard, but something measured with a rubber ruler, as the standards will be continually on a downhill slide since it is rooted in nothing.

  33. The atheist is not hypocritical. The don’t try to destroy their neighber with their mouth. Religious people misrepresenting Jesus do that when they find out that their neighber has a different sexual liking. Religious people short circuit. Moral standards are set by religions that are not morally sound.

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