In 2008, Adriana Ramirez, a thirty-something California resident, was officially declared a permanent resident of the United States. Like millions of immigrants, she wished to become a citizen. Five years later she began the process of making her dream come true.
Becoming an American citizen is not an easy process. The five year residency requirement only kicks in after a person has become a legal permanent resident — a process more complicated than naturalization. If they can afford the numerous fees involved in the process, which can total in the thousands of dollars, a person must also prove they are of “good moral character” (meaning no criminal record), be proficient in English and pass a test that includes questions that many people born and raised here probably couldn’t answer. They must also take an oath of allegiance to the United States and its laws.
Part of this oath includes being willing to bear arms if the country would require you to do so. While it is unlikely that most people would ever need to do so, the largely symbolic arcane provision is designed to reinforce the commitment to the applicant’s new country of choice and a renouncement of loyalties of their country of birth. Like those who are drafted into military service, however, applicants can conscientiously object to the provision.
Ms. Ramirez’s life has been dedicated to the idea of nonviolence. She co-founded a journal focusing on that and spent her life dedicated to building foundations of peace. So when it came time to check “yes” on her willingness to take up arms, Ms. Ramirez objected on moral grounds, indicating that she had “strong moral convictions against arms and killing people.” Like many others before her, she declared herself a conscientious objector.
Two weeks after her formal interview to establish her eligibility, Ms. Ramirez’s application was denied.
In spite of notarized statement explaining her position and stating that her “commitment to non-combatancy” was based on “deep moral conviction” and her request for “the U.S. government honor its statutory exemption and allow me to take an alternate affirmation,” the government did not feel she qualified for the conscientious objector exemption because her objections were not based on “religious training or beliefs.”
In other words, moral objections are only for the religious.
Those who fled to the land that would be declared the United States of America did so to pursue freedoms not afforded to them under a powerful monarchy. This included religious expression of their choice. The belief was of such importance that the Establishment Clause of the Constitution prohibits the establishment of religion or prohibiting the exercising of religious expression. However, many are finding that the freedom from religion is harder to come by.
While the majority of Americans still identify with some religious affiliation, the rise of the non-affiliated has dramatically increased in the past five years. Thirty percent of Americans admit to not being part of a particular religion. Most of these are people that have left the religion they were raised in but maintain a belief in a god. However, people identifying as nontheists are on the rise.
The American Humanist Association, founded more than 70 years ago, is dedicated to bringing forth a progressive society where “being good without god is an accepted and respected way of life.” Humanists encompasses a variety of nontheistic views while “adding the important element of a comprehensive worldview and set of ethical values – values that are grounded in the philosophy of the Enlightenment, informed by scientific knowledge, and driven by a desire to meet the needs of people in the here and now.” They do these through a variety of ways, including the protection of the civil rights of people whose views are based on secularism.
People like Adriana Ramirez.
The Appignani Humanist Legal Center is representing Ramirez in her appeal. They claim that the denial of her application because her objections were not “religious” in nature is unconstitutional. They cite a Supreme Court ruling in United States v Seeger indicating that the necessary requirement for a conscientious objector for religious reasons must include secular beliefs in order to not violate the Establishment Clause of the Constitution. The ruling related to issues of the draft, but a later case included the process of naturalization. The organization appealed a denial last year of an atheist in Texas by sending a similar letter. Her application was approved soon after receiving the letter.
Adriana Ramirez is waiting to find out if her moral objections are just as valid without God.