Unless she joins a church by Friday, an atheist woman will be denied U.S. citizenship by the Department of Homeland Security because her refusal to "take up arms to defend the United States" is not religiously-based.
The woman, Margaret Doughty, 64, is originally from the U.K. but has lived in the United States for 30 years, according to a Daily KOS campaign asking the Department of Homeland Security to "stop denying U.S. citizenship to atheists."
"On her application, Margaret declined to 'take up arms to defend the United States' – due to her moral opposition to violence. The U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (a division of DHS) replied that only religious-based objections are valid – instructing her to submit proof of her religion on "official church stationery" by June 21, or they will deny her U.S. citizenship," notes a summary of Doughty's dilemma on the campaign.
"The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms," Doughty explained on her recent citizenship application, according to this report.
"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," she added.
According to the report, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office in Houston told the Palacios, Texas, resident that she would have to prove she is covered under the religious-based objections by verifying on "official church stationery" that she is "a member in good standing" of a church that opposes the bearing of arms by Friday.
In response, Doughty has been seeking to drum up support for her cause including through the Daily KOS petition which was signed by more than 4,000 supporters as of Thursday evening.
Two atheist groups, the Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Appignani Humanist Legal Center have threatened legal action on Doughty's behalf if she is penalized for not being a member of a religious group.
"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, noted 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," he continued.