Atheists are the most hated group in the United States, so perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services refused to approve one woman’s application for citizenship unless she joined a church.
Margaret Doughty, a 64-year-old from England, has been a permanent U.S. resident for more than 30 years. She is not riffraff — she runs non-profit adult literacy organizations. Even without citizenship she has contributed more to our country than many natives ever do.
Nonetheless, she received the following response from the American government when she applied for citizenship:
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.
It’s the “bearing of arms” part that started this embarrassing episode. The application for U.S. citizenship asks whether the individual would be willing to take up arms to defend the country. Doughty answered truthfully that she would not, even though it was a moot point in her case:
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 arms….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.
Houston-based immigration officials answered, in essence, that however deep her belief, if it wasn’t motivated by fear of a vengeful God it wasn’t worth squat. Americans’ opinion that atheists are about as trustworthy as rapists explains this bizarre response. As I understand it, the thinking goes that people will be true to a belief only if they are ordered to by an all-powerful deity. The notion that people might act in accordance with their values simply because they believe in their values seems to spin American heads. Or perhaps they don’t believe atheists could possibly have any values beyond their own self-interest.
That attitude reflects pretty poorly on the religious folk who think it, as it must spring from a feeling that without their own churches to keep them in line they personally would be running amok, raping and pillaging. It scares me that the only thing standing between a majority of my nation and lives of crime may be a pastor of some flavor. Sorry, but a quick glance through history shows that hasn’t worked out very well for my tribe. Churches inspired millions to massacre my Jewish ancestors — take the Crusades and the Inquisition. I’d like a little more protection than a church, thanks.
Incidentally, why would our government order Doughty to get documentation from a church? Why not a synagogue or a mosque or a Baha’i temple? This slip illustrates the reason we have separation of church and state in these parts: because even religious Americans aren’t all Christian.
But back to Doughty. After pro-separation groups publicly called the government’s stance “illegal and unconstitutional” and other unflattering things, officials woke up, smelled the coffee, and welcomed her to our body politic.
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