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Barking mad: ATHEIST told to produce a letter from her CHURCH to support her US citizenship bid

MARGARET Doughty, an international literacy expert living and working in America, was told by the US Immigration and Citizen Services (USCIS) to:

Please 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.

This was in response to a letter Doughty, an atheist from the UK, wrote to USCIS when applying for American citizenship.

She has spent over 30 years in the US and is currently a permanent resident running non-profit adult literacy organisations, doing her part, according to this report, “to enrich the lives of American citizens”.

Margaret Doughty and her son New York photographer son Chris Johnson

Margaret Doughty and her son New York photographer son Chris Johnson

In the process of applying for citizenship, all candidates are asked if they’d be willing to take up arms in defence of of America. Doughty responded:

I am sure the law would never require a 64-year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest. 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 arm … my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God …

I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.

Despite being an atheist, Doughty was told that any conscientious objection must be based on religious grounds, not simply moral objections. So as someone who was not religious, and didn’t believe in a god, she had no basis for objecting.

Her statement was rejected and she has been informed that to move forward in the process she must submit a letter from the elders of her church to prove her conscientious objections are religiously based.

She has been given until June 21st to show that her objection is grounded in religion, or her application will be denied.

This is not the first time a non-religious person has raised a conscientious objection to joining the armed forces. In fact, related issues have gone to the Supreme Court and have been ruled in favour of the non-religious objector.  In Welsh v United States, Elliott Ashton Welsh refused to take up arms on a moral objection rather than a religious one.

However, under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, one could only object to joining the armed forces based on a religious conviction involving a Supreme Being. The Court agreed that Welsh could be considered a conscientious objector based on his personal moral grounds, and that the exemption being purely religious was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

The Divided Under God site says:

It appears that Margaret Doughty is facing a very similar First Amendment violation. As a conscientious objector to war, she is basing her position on her personal ethical code rather than a religious one. The response from the INS suggesting her claim must be based on religion is the same sort of First Amendment violation we saw in Welsh v US.

Please join us in spreading the word about this case so that we can fight discrimination against non-believers.

Coincidentally, Doughty’s stepson is Chris Johnson, a New York based photographer. He’s working on a book called A Better Life, which aims to shine a positive light on atheists by featuring 100 non-believers who found joy and meaning in their lives without god.

Hat tip: Tim Danaher and Pete H.

21 Responses to “Barking mad: ATHEIST told to produce a letter from her CHURCH to support her US citizenship bid”

  1. Bob Stammers says:

    Why not just tell the INS that she will bear arms if required to do so. She’s 64 years old, it just doesn’t matter.

  2. asquith says:

    This is what I don’t understand about conscientious objection on religious grounds being deemed acceptable. They say gob sanctions their wars, so doesn’t that make it even worse if someone else says gob is against a particular war? That’s surely, apart from a refusal to fight, a blasphemous claim.

  3. She’s also not a liar, that’s why. It’s a very important matter of principle, and could possibly impact future cases.

    I agree that most people “fudge the truth” just to make things easier on themselves, and that’s their perogative.

  4. (My reply was addressed to Bob Stammers.)

  5. Angela_K says:

    @Bob Stammers. Because she has morals and doesn’t want to lie – unlike the religious who lie about most things to get their way.

  6. David Tucker says:

    The Seger decesion by the US Supreme Court in 1964 allowed conscientious objection on philisophical rather than religious grounds, so she should tell the USCIS to obey the constitution.

  7. L.Long says:

    Politics as usual in the Theocratic States of America.

  8. Trevor Blake says:

    I am an atheist, and I am a member of the Universal Life Church. I would gladly writer her the needed letter.

  9. Trevor Blake says:

    All ULC members are also clergy by default.

  10. Graham Martin-Royle says:

    That’s a nice gesture Trevor but she shouldn’t be obliged to get a letter from any church. When people from the USA say that their country is secular this proves that it’s not. It is a christian country, just like the fundies (a pox on them all) keep on claiming.

    This case needs to be won otherwise this is yet another case of religion being given a special privilege over non-religion.

  11. The Woggler says:

    Methinks somebody has been given a little bit too much power and it’s gone to their head.

  12. jay says:

    The conscientious objector clause hasn’t been addressed in many decades probably because we haven’t had a draft since the 70s. Back then I was a member of an anti war church, and a CO exemption was almost impossible even for members unless they were full time ministers.

    Since the issue is currently almost moot, I’m not sure the courts will be interested in spending much time on it.

  13. Daz says:

    “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses; we need them for cannon-fodder.”

  14. Daz says:

    Also, how on Earth do they square this requirement for proof of religion with the establishment clause?

  15. Pat says:

    The notion that a person has no conscience if he or she does not place blind trust in an invisible being displays an appalling ignorance. That our own government wields this truncheon of rightousness is unspeakably wrong.

    Article VI of the Constitution states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

  16. Matt+Westwood says:

    The real WTF is wanting to become a citizen of the Untied States of Hysterica in the first place.

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