Atheist Immigrant Sues Gov't to Remove 'So Help Me God' in US Citizenship Oath

(Photo: REUTERS/Mike Segar)New U.S. citizens hold American flags as they take the oath of citizenship during a naturalization ceremony beneath the Statue of Liberty during ceremonies marking the 125th anniversary of the Statue at Liberty Island in New York, October 28, 2011.

A French national and green card holder who lives in Massachusetts has filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. government over its citizenship oath, which ends with "so help me God."

In her lawsuit, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, an atheist and a resident of Scituate, claims she wants to become an American citizen but she can't do so because the oath requires her to say those four words, according to MassLive.com.

"By its very nature, an oath that concludes 'so help me God' is asserting that God exists," says the lawsuit. "Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting or defending the Constitution as the oath demands."

Perrier-Bilbo was given the opportunity to use a modified oath or participate in a private citizenship ceremony, but she insists the presence of "so help me God" is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion.

"By placing a religious statement (to which Plaintiff does not adhere) into the Oath of Naturalization, and then forcing Plaintiff to use an alternative oath (so that she must feel less than a new citizen), Defendants substantially burden Plaintiff in her exercise of religion," the suit says.

The lawsuit is not likely to change much, Erwin Chemerinsky, a First Amendment expert and dean of Berkeley Law, was quoted as saying. "Courts generally have not been receptive to this in the context of the Pledge of Allegiance."

Atheists routinely bring cases challenging alleged government endorsements of religion.

A Washington, D.C.-based secularist group, American Humanist Association, last week filed a reply brief to the U.S. Supreme Court in its litigation against a Texas school district's prayer policy at public board meetings, in hopes of appealing a lower court's decision ruling in favor of Birdville Independent School District.

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly held that school districts may not subject their students to prayer and has never made any exception to this rule for school board meetings," Monica Miller, senior counsel for the AHA's Appignani Humanist Legal Center, said in a statement. "Forcing students to choose between attending board meetings in order to receive school credit or recognition for academic achievements and not attending only to avoid personally offensive religious rituals runs afoul longstanding constitutional principles."

In August 2016, U.S. District Judge John McBryde ruled in favor of the school district, citing the Supreme Court decision Town of Greece v. Galloway, which allowed for Christian prayers to be given at county commission public meetings.