-Submitted by David Drumm (Nal), Guest Blogger
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. 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.