Here’s another law that privileges religious beliefs by giving believers an opt-out from a generally applicable law, resulting in clear and obvious discrimination against non-believers. Margaret Doughty applied for US citizenship and was asked the standard question of whether she would be willing to take up arms to defend the country. Her reply:
“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.”
But that’s not good enough. In order to qualify for citizenship, one must either show that they have a religious objection to taking up arms or agree to do so — even if you’re 64 years old. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services agency replied:
“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.”
Doughty has lived in this country for 30 years but is going to be denied citizenship because she does not qualify for an exemption from a law that could never possibly apply to her anyway because her conscience is not motivated by religious belief. Just another way that we privilege religious belief as though it were somehow more important or real than secular beliefs.
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