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Atheist Told by Immigration Office to Join Church or Be Denied Citizenship

Posted on Jun 20, 2013
American Flag image via Shutterstock

After living in the United States as a permanent resident for more than 30 years, 65-year-old Margaret Doughty wants to become a naturalized citizen. But because she stated on her application that she objects to the pledge to bear arms in defense of the U.S.—Doughty explained that she’s morally opposed to war and killing—she must be granted an exception as a conscientious objector. And in order to do that, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Houston has told Doughty, an atheist, to provide “official church stationery” proving she’s a “member in good standing” of a religious organization that forbids violence.

Immigration officials have given Doughty a deadline of Friday to present such evidence.

The Raw Story:

Two prominent atheist groups, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center, have sent letters on behalf of Doughty. The letters warned the USCIS office in Houston that it would face legal action if it refused to acknowledge Doughty as a conscientious objector because she was not a member of a church.

“It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption,” Andrew L. Seidel, a staff attorney at FFRF, wrote in a June 14 letter. “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, a native of the United Kingdom, has long fought against illiteracy and is the founder of the nonprofit Literary Powerline. Her efforts were recognized by England’s Queen Elizabeth II in 2000. On Sunday, she thanked those who were supporting her.

“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. “They are people with a wide range of beliefs, beliefs that I respect – Christians, Moslems, 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.”

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—Posted by Tracy Bloom.

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