This Woman is Being Denied U.S. Citizenship Because She’s an Atheist

On Thursday, I received an email from Chris Johnson, familiar to readers of this site because he’s been working on a multimedia book about atheists and what gives them joy and meaning in life.

It turned out his 64-year-old stepmother was applying to become an official U.S. citizen after living here for more than 30 years.

Part of the application asked her if she would “take up arms in defense of the United States” — join the military, in essence — and she responded, in part, like this:

… 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 armsmy beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God

That bit at the end is what caught the eye of someone at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). They told her that if she had a “conscientious objection,” it had to be on religious grounds, not moral ones.

Her atheism wasn’t good enough.

Her only option, it seemed, was to get a letter from the elders of her church by June 21st to show that her religious justifications against going to war are sound.

I alerted the Freedom From Religion Foundation about this issue and attorney Andrew Seidel took quick action, sending USCIS in Houston a letter (PDF) explaining that, while they’re following U.S. law to the letter, their interpretation of it is way off:

In short, this exemption requires only a deeply held belief in not bearing arms or serving in the armed forces. Anything more, such as a requirement to document the belief with a particular church, is a gross violation of the law and the Constitution.

It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption. This is a longstanding part of our law and every USCIS officer should receive training on this exemption. Form N-400, which the officers gave to [REDACTED], even mentions the exemption and Supreme Court cases above. Either the officers in Houston are inept, or they are deliberately discriminating against nonreligious applicants for naturalization.

Strong letter, but one that attests to how obvious a legal violation this is.

I hope this issue gets resolved quickly — I’ll follow-up when there’s more information available.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • Scott WA

    Wrong on so many levels. Not only doesn’t religion matter, the question doesn’t either. A 65 year old can not join our military anyways, they wouldn’t take her… so the answer is “not applicable”.

    • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

      Yeah, I raised a brow at that too. So what if her objection isn’t religiously based, she’s too old to serve anyway so the whole issue shouldn’t have even been.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      Further, women have never been drafted before. The second wave of feminism occurred around the same time as we abolished the draft. Who knows what would happen today?

      In any case, why does it matter what your reasons are for or against serving in the military if it’s genuinely a volunteer organization? The question seems to presuppose the return of a forced draft.

      • 3lemenope

        The question presupposes the return of a forced draft because the very purpose of the Selective Service system is to maintain records that would make it really easy to implement one in the case of mobilization for total war if such a thing were deemed necessary.

        • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

          Indeed. I just find it somewhat implausible that a draft would be feasible in the kind of sociopolitical environment that’s present today, but maybe I’m naive about that.

          • 3lemenope

            No, you’re almost certainly right about that. It would take something really stupendously large AND surprising to kick us into a war-footing where reactivating a draft would become politically feasible. It is worth keeping in mind that the Selective Service system was set up immediately following Vietnam, while the Cold War was still going strong and where it was easily imaginable that a draft might need to be used again.

  • toth

    Bit of a sensationalistic title for a bureaucratic snafu, no?

    • Artor

      Umm…no? It sums up the situation pretty accurately. In what way do you take exception to it?

      • toth

        Because she wasn’t denied citizenship because she’s an atheist, she was denied citizenship because she refused to assent to one of the provisions of the application and the officials thought she didn’t have a basis for a legally valid exemption. It turns out they were wrong, but it’s not as though the officials saw “Religious affiliation: atheist” and said “Nope, you’re not getting in.” The title’s not *wrong*, exactly, but it is misleading.

        • C Peterson

          No, she really was denied citizenship because she is an atheist. That was the primary motivation for failing to recognize the validity of the conscientious objection clause. Had she simply left off the part about not believing in God, there would have been no problem.

          Admitting to a lack of belief in God is what created the situation.

          • toth

            My understanding, from reading the post, is that the US requires some sort of documentation of conscientious objection, they don’t simply take the applicant’s word for it.

            • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

              And if the only possible documentation comes from a church, then a lot of people who don’t go to church, but might be able to provide affidavits from any number of sources, is out because they can’t provide documentation from the one approved source-type.

              • toth

                I agree, it would be a horrible, unconstitutional arrangement if the immigration officials were correct. My point is that it doesn’t seem to be a a case of prejudice or bigotry, it seems to be a case of bureaucratic fuckup.

                • C Peterson

                  Speaking for myself, I never suggested that prejudice or bigotry was involved, only that the headline is correct in identifying the woman’s atheism as the cause of her rejection. That is true whether or not we are talking about actual bigotry on the part of the examiners, a bureaucratic snafu, or a badly written law.

                  If the woman were not an atheist, her application would not have been denied.

                • toth

                  Which is why I said it was technically accurate, but misleading.

                • C Peterson

                  Which is what I disagreed with. So I guess we’ve come full circle.

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  I’d call it a case of extreme religious privilege. It never occurred to a large number of people involved that one could be a valid conscientious objector on anything other than religious grounds. That you don’t want to kill isn’t important. That your religion tells you not to is.

                  Come to think of it, I used to know a guy in Canada who spent Viet Nam in prison in the US because he was an objector and didn’t have a religion to vouch for him. I’ve lost touch with his family though to get details.

                • 3lemenope

                  The US established the current rules in 1965 to include secular reasons for Conscientious Objection, and further clarified in 1971 that secular reasons for C.O. status are legitimate so long as those reasons make the person asserting them scrupulous of fighting in all wars, not merely the current war; the reason cannot be politics, opinion of the current war, expedience, or simple self-interest. Those first two criteria, incidentally, are why many C.O. claims were not honored during Vietnam; many erstwhile objectors objected not to all wars but to one particular one they felt unwise, etc., or upon dislike of particular presidents and other politicians.

                  The Draft Boards, and following their abolition the Selective Service Administration, sought corroboration for claims in the form of testimony of friends, colleagues, and family, documents, and prior acts that show that the scrupulousness against bearing arms extends reasonably into the past and was not invented by the person for the current conflict. It is incumbent upon the person asking for C.O. status, regardless of the reason, to make a satisfactory showing to the board of such facts (they don’t go out of their way to collect them).

                • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

                  Thanks for the clarification. Unfortunately the person I knew is dead, and his children have pretty common names, so unless Mike or Melody Parker read this, I’ll probably never know the details of Malcolm’s case.

                  p.s. your avatar name FINALLY registered with me. I used to think it had something to do with the 3 prongs of the Lemon test.

                • 3lemenope

                  Heh, the ’3′ was because Disqus; it used to be an “E” and made more sense. :)

    • C Peterson

      Headlines, by design, tend to be sensationalistic. The important point here is that the headline is accurate.

    • Hat Stealer

      If she had been religous, she would have been accepted.
      Because she was not religous, she was denied citizenship.

      The title is completely accurate.

      • 3lemenope

        The causal agent was not her atheism, as both the law and the facts are on her side. The causal agent was the bureaucrat’s ignorance of and/or disregard of that law and how it applies to these facts.

        An incompetent and/or narrow-minded bureaucrat didn’t get the memo. That’s all this is. And, helpfully, the FFRF sent a remedial memo, just for them.

        • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

          Problem is, the views of this particular bureaucrat are still widely shared in society.

          • 3lemenope

            I agree wholeheartedly that that is a problem.

        • C Peterson

          When the wing falls off an airplane because the threads strip on the nut and bolt holding it on, is the “causal agent” the nut or the bolt?

          I’d argue that you can make as good a case that the causal agent was the woman’s atheism as was the bureaucrat’s ignorance. It is certainly true that had the woman not identified herself as an atheist, this wouldn’t have happened. That rises to “causal agent” in my way of looking at things.

          Perhaps it would be better to recognize that sometimes there is no single causal agent, but rather, a contingent set of circumstances.

          • 3lemenope

            The list of but-for conditions for any given nexus of events is functionally infinite. The universe causes the universe to occur, as well as any given subset thereof.

            Given the clarity and long-standing smooth application of the law at issue, it is more plausible that this is a case whose outcome was dominated by the fact that a badly trained government employee took the case, rather than any given fact in that case. Absent any other positive facts, it is illegitimate to assume that the error was caused by the state-of-mind of the agent (e.g. “she’s an atheist, and I don’t like them!”) rather than a failure of training leading to misunderstanding the policy being applied. If we can’t assume that (and we shouldn’t) then it is reasonable to suspect that the error could have been in any relevant subject area where the agent was poorly trained.

            I can easily imagine a green-behind-the-ears INS agent, poorly trained and nervous, denying a citizenship application for all sorts of reasons. I had a driver’s license denied me once by a poorly trained bureaucrat who didn’t understand the rules regarding eyeglasses. And as in that case, usually where the error is glaring and contrary to longstanding application, getting it fixed is usually just a matter of appealing up the chain to their supervisor. If this doesn’t get fixed reasonably quickly as a response to the FFRF’s helpful memo, *then* it would be legitimate to start speculating about anti-atheist bias because something else would then likely be going on, and anti-atheist bias is the runner-up in terms of plausibility.

            • C Peterson

              Given the clarity and long-standing smooth application of the law at issue…

              I have doubts that this is actually the case. How many times, on a citizenship application, did somebody both claim conscientious objector status and also claim atheism? I’d guess it’s very rare. Most people would simply check the box saying they’d fight, knowing perfectly well that they were ineligible and that the condition would never arise. It is perfectly reasonable for most people to interpret the question as rhetorical (as the woman could have done in this case). And most people would probably avoid wording that identified them as atheists, given that you have to go out of the way to do so identify.

              I suspect the “smooth application” comes from people by and large not deviating from the expected script.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    For first amendment purposes, atheism is considered a “religion.”

    • Jasper

      Kinda/sorta… I think a court ruled that way, but the way I think about it is in terms of “religious preference”.

      It’d be like being asked what your preference is for pizza toppings. If your preference is “none”, that qualifies as a preference, but it doesn’t make “no topping” a type of “topping”… that’d violate the laws of logic.

      Likewise, selecting “atheist” as a religious preference doesn’t make atheism a religion… but more like saying “not applicable”

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        I’d say more than one ruled that way, and the most important is probably Torcaso http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Torcaso_v._Watkins

        The one trolls always point to (although they always think it was a SCOTUS ruling) is a 7th circuit decision allowing inmates to form an atheist group. Matt explains it well http://www.atheist-community.org/library/articles/read.php?id=742

        That court went overboard on the language I think, but I think the point is that having the TV off, or not having sex, are valid options.

        I’m disagree Reginald on saying “For first amendment purposes” because it’s really more than that. That’s not ‘wrong’, but the first amendment isn’t really in play in this woman’s case, that I can see.

  • Geoff Boulton

    I can imagine the scene in the immigration office, ‘She’s an atheist, they don’t have morals. She MUST be lying to get out of defending our country! Godless traitor!’

    • Artor

      They must be pretty desperate if they want to draft 64 y/o grannies.

      • Geoff Boulton

        I doubt they even thought about that. Completely blinkered by religious indignation ;-)

  • The Captain

    Off to the beach, so I really don’t have time to go into this right now but this happens any time the government makes an exception for something on the grounds of a religious belief. Not only is it discriminatory against atheist, but also against others who have religious beliefs that are not “sanctioned” by the government. So for instance when the government allows legal protections for say, pharmacist not to give out birth control at work if it’s against their “religion”, it is in effect sanctioning an official religion. Unless ALL people are allowed to act on their convictions (such as muslim cab drivers being legally exempted from picking up women) then this is the government giving favoritism and promoting some peoples religious beliefs.

    Edit: and just before I’m off, it has always bothered me that no one has legally challenge the government being allowed to make exceptions for anyones religious belief for anything since in doing so the government is in effect “passing a law” that “establishes” a religion (by sanctioning some and not others) thus violating that one amendment.

    • C Peterson

      You are absolutely correct. Religion should never be taken into consideration, never even mentioned, in any law. There should be no religious exemptions for anything. No religious belief should ever be considered in what people can or cannot do.

      That doesn’t mean the law can’t be written to allow exceptions based on personal moral beliefs, but those beliefs should not be legally tied to religion.

      • Kodie

        I think it is more to keep from infringing on free expression. Like I think 3lemenope said, the excuse can’t be for political reasons or personal opinions of a particular war – it’s between you and your conscience in belief. It’s like, if your food stamps only buy pork for some reason and you’re a Jew. They can’t make you eat that even though it’s food. They probably wouldn’t make an exception for a vegetarian, even though eating pork makes you cry. If it’s not your god’s law that you’re superstitious of breaking, they can make you break your own law. If you’re an atheist, you certainly have no fear from a god judging you if you go to war. Making the woman get a note from church just the same is more of an establishment. Not allowing atheists the same ability to conscientiously object for religious reasons is because we admit we don’t report to any god.

        I have the same thing in Massachusetts when they initiated mandatory health insurance. There are forms you have to fill out in order to object being penalized, and you can only object for valid religious reasons. If they are making everyone do it, “I just don’t want to” is not a good enough reason because everyone could say that. That is a political or economic reason, and you may address that in other ways. You won’t get a special exception if the law is found to be bad, everyone will or it wouldn’t be fair. If a few people want to object to the policy, they have to have a damn good reason – they have to have an inviolable relationship with a god, and the government is not supposed to interfere with that.

        I happen to think the question is possibly a dramatic way of asking you again if you renounce allegiance to your former country. I know she knows they’re never going to draft her, but saying “yeah, sure” is a lie most people would tell and nobody would know, if they were unable and very unlikely to be called to service anyway. I think she wanted to make a big deal protesting war in any case, although she may not have known this atheism might pose a snag in her paperwork. She could say, “come on, I’m 64! Who would want me to pick up arms and literally go to war!” But if you don’t ask, she may go for being a spy reporting to her home country and not even realize that’s against the law. She may be a very fit 64-year-old with prior military experience.

    • Little Magpie

      Just a nice counter-example to the pharmacists not filling birth control Rx’es because of their religion; during the legal wrangles that ended up with Canada legalizing same sex marriage, one of the legal cases “for,” the MCC (Metropolitan Community Church – if anyone doesn’t know, read wikipedia’s article, I don’t feel like explaining here), argued that this was a Charter case (ie something that goes to the Supreme Court as unconstitutional because it is in violation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which sort of adds up to more-or-less equivalent to Bill of Rights) that not having same sex marriages amounts to the government dictating to religion and impeding their right to perform the marriages that their denomination believes in.

      It didn’t fly – the Court basically said, no-ones stopping you from performing the ceremony, the government is not obliged to offer legal recognition of them. So in other words, the MCC’s argument was logically flawed – but it goes to show that the “you’re messing with our religious freedom” card can ALSO be played by the progressives. …. Flawed argument but it still made me smile. :)

  • Ibis3

    But she does say it’s on spiritual/religious grounds that she objects to war. She merely says her religion is atheistic. She might have been a Buddhist (for example).

  • jbandsma

    If nothing else works, I’m sure the American Friends service committee would be glad to help. Many meetings not only accept but welcome atheist members who join for the social positions that Quakers take on many issues. I’m one.

    • Georginafs

      Eactly the comment I intended to make. You do not need to believe in god to be a ‘Quaker’, and even the Brits accepted that they were COs during WWII.

  • ortcutt

    If you are a vegetarian on religious grounds, then you have a right to get vegetarian meals in prison, but if you are a vegetarian on moral grounds, then it’s up to the prison. For some reason, principles matter more if fantasies about supernatural beings are involved.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/05/us/05bcjames.html?_r=0

    • Malcolm McLean

      It’s the same story. Moral grounds are defined by the person, religious grounds by the religious institution. So Krishna devotees can’t have anything with onions in it. It sounds very odd, but Krishna really dislikes onions. However if you let everyone decide on their own religion, you’d get a long list of likes and dislikes, with every prisoner claiming moral grounds for not having peanut butter with crunchy bits in, or needing the crusts of his sandwiches sliced off, or whatever. It would be totally unmangeable, because prisoners don’t have a motive to make the prison run smoothly.

      In most jobs you can bring your own food in if you don’t like what’s provided, so if you want peanut butter sandwiches without crunchy bits, and with the crusts cit off, that’s you privilege as an adult. But children don’t get that freedom.

      • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

        Relative impracticality is not a reason to deny anyone their rights. That kind of reasoning from highest convenience eventually leads to no rights at all.

        Even if you were right, and it was simply impossible to accommodate religious or moral preferences in these matters, that would mean that no one gets any special treatment. Certainly it would _not_ mean that some groups get their views respected and others do not.

        • 3lemenope

          Relative impracticality is too low a bar, certainly, but absolute impracticality is not. The question becomes how does one design a system for inducting citizens into the Armed Forces (a fundamental function of any government) that simultaneously respects moral scruples but is not absurdly easy to game for non-moral ends. We *can’t* just take peoples’ words for it.

          The underlying problem here is that religious C.O. applicants have a practical advantage in proving the sincerity of their convictions, simply because due to belonging to a community that is well publicly attested in its beliefs they have nearly guaranteed access to the type of evidence that the service board looks for for signs of sincerity. It’s not an advantage under law, and really not advantage under the application of the law, but an advantage that stems from something orthogonal to the law entirely. Atheists belonging to secular associations that consistently espouse pacifistic beliefs and values would have access to the same sort of evidence of similar quality.

          I see no easy way, beyond encouraging all non-theists who might in the future want to assert scruples against bearing arms to belong to such an association, how such a basic structural imbalance can be remedied.

          • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

            I certainly would not discourage anyone from joining atheist or humanist organizations with clear anti-war principles, that is for sure.

            Further, it seems like we could sweep away the whole issue just by declaring the selective service program obsolete, and in fact saying we are not going to reinstitute the draft.

            • 3lemenope

              Problem with that is, the draft is like the ultimate in “it’s better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it”. A country does need to be able to mobilize quickly to respond to surprise attack and/or invasion. And while it may be unimaginable at any given time, the general speed of change of the geopolitical situation makes any long term projections fairly untenable.

              • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                A major problem (currently, probably not in 20 or even 10 years) is that a draft reauthorization would have to include women. This shouldn’t be a problem, but people are still freaked out about the whole women in combat thing, and with the current sexual abuse scandals, that’s … just not going to fly right now. The military really ought to clean up its act before requiring anyone, male or female, to register for selective service.

              • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

                It’s true that predicting the future is extremely fraught with danger. The only constant is change…

                • 3lemenope

                  LOL. Yes, and moreso with predicting the actions of nation-states and their peoples. Major, world-changing events from the Berlin Wall being torn down to the 9/11 attacks have a habit of coming without significant (sometimes any) warning.

          • C Peterson

            The question becomes how does one design a system for inducting citizens into the Armed Forces (a fundamental function of any government) that simultaneously respects moral scruples but is not absurdly easy to game for non-moral ends.

            That’s easy. You remove from the government the ability to induct citizens into the armed forces involuntarily. It isn’t necessary. If the country is truly at risk, there will be ample volunteers. Indeed, the absence of volunteers is a pretty good indicator that the armed forces shouldn’t be doing something.

            Forcing involuntary military service is hardly a fundamental function of government. And if the service if voluntary, there should never be any moral conflict at the individual level.

          • Monika Jankun-Kelly

            So Christian liars who only pretend to be conscientious objectors aren’t gaming the system? They’re more believable because they’re Christian? Because they subscribe to a faith with tons of splinter groups with widely divergent stances on war and killing? A Gallup poll showed atheists (and Muslims) were less likely to justify killing someone than Christians, but Christians get to play the “conscientious objector” card without question while we’re suspect?

            • 3lemenope

              Generally, no. In fact, while religious objectors have a structural advantage in gathering evidence to support their petitions, the have a structural disadvantage insofar as they actually have to show that their religion has a history of supporting conscientious objection. Most Christian denominations maintain positions on war that are incompatible with the legal and policy standards necessary for conscientious objection and undercut the efforts of members to assert a religiously-based petition.

        • HMLew

          Shouldn’t it be pointed out that prisoners technically do not have “rights” in the same context that regular citizens do. You lose your civil rights when you become a felon and while you are in prison. Some you gain back when you are released from prison, others (if you are non-violent), you have to actively work to have restored. If you are a violent felon, you can’t ever gain these rights back. (right to vote, to bear arms)

          It’s unreasonable for prisoners to expect a right to a certain kind of diet in the first place, I’d say. Unless they have a medical reason that they can’t eat something, lest they suffer physical harm, then I see no reason to cater to anyone.

          • Malcolm McLean

            So the same argument applies to military recruits, schoolchildren, astronauts, soup kitchen recipients, guests at White House dinners, anorexics, or anyone who gets fed by the government. Some food fads will be accepted, but you can’t accept all for everyone.
            Steve Jobs was so spoilt that when he met Obama he refused to have the piscitarian dish of haddock and prawns planned for him, because it was “too fancy”. Uncle Sam can tolerate that from billionaires, because they can at least pay for their own organic chefs. But not from every schoolchild.

            • ortcutt

              Why make accommodations for religious dietary restrictions then? If it’s just a matter of practicability, then there should be one meal for everyone.

              • Malcolm McLean

                I’ve got very limited patience with feeding fads, though I find some seafood difficult to eat, not having been brought up with it as a child. Also I dislike fresh tomatoes, though I will eat them if served rather than make a fuss.

                On the other hand, peanut allergy can be 100% genuine. People can die from eating peanuts if they are hypersensitive to them. So obviously I agree that this shouldn’t be treated as a feeding fad. On the other hand, Steve Jobs’ piscitarian diet was pure nonsense, and even finished him off, because he was stupid enough to think he could suppress early stage cancer by eating nothing but fish. The anti- trans fat campaign sits between the two, it’s not completely scientifically illiterate, but throwing a hissy fit because you’re served the wrong sort of burger is an over-reaction.

                So where do you draw the line?

                • ortcutt

                  Allergies are a perfectly valid reason for dietary restrictions. Also, a doctor’s recommendation. Krishna doesn’t want me to eat onions, on the other hand?

                • Malcolm McLean

                  Experiments have been done by liquidising foods and feeding them to people who claim to suffer from allergies in soup. In the vast majority of cases, no allergic reaction was noted. Peanut allergy is an exception, obviously.

                  Mostly it’s just feeding fads. Steve Jobs was a billionaire, so, of course, if he offers me enough money to make it worth my while, I’ll serve him nothing but plain fish. If money isn’t forthcoming, then Jobs gets the same food as everybody else, as far as I’m concerned. Krishna is a god, so if you believe in him, you won’t offer him anything with onions in it (the devotee then gets the stuff that Krishna leaves behind). But the non-onion diet isn’t something just invented by a spoilt billionaire. Even if we hold it’s nonsense, it’s someone else’s nonsense.
                  .

                • ortcutt

                  You keep saying the same thing over and over without responding to my rejoinder that the distinction between a third-party’s restrictions and the eater’s restrictions is artificial. The restrictions are always the eater’s in that the eater is the one who adopts them. If Steve Jobs’ dietary restrictions were based on his Buddhism, would they then become valid to you?

                • Malcolm McLean

                  That’s a difficult question. Buddhism is a real religion. However it’s adopted by a few Westerners as a sort of pose, a designer faith that doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously.

                  Ultimately there’s only the Church, religions which falsely or irregularly* claim to be the Church, and what is outside it. And the Church doesn’t make dietary restrictions. But in charity, we’ve got to recognise Judaism, or Islam, as sincerely held views which deserve some respect. Equally for Asian Buddhists. But not the Steve Jobs of this world who choose to play with Buddhism.

                  *irregular means that you’re outside the normal, accepted legal definition, but in reality you are a member. So someone who fights alongside Allied troops, but doesn’t have an army serial number, rank, or commanding officer, is an “irregular”..

      • ortcutt

        Someone deciding to be a Krishna devotee isn’t different from someone deciding that killing animals for meat is immoral. Religion is a choice defined by the person as much as anything else.

        As for impracticability, why is that an argument for disparate treatment?

        • Kodie

          Answering to a deity is definitely different than answering to yourself. If you believe there are eternal consequences, the government is not allowed to tell you it’s fiction and make you eat it.

          • ortcutt

            As far as I know, no one inquires into whether there is punishment for violating the dietary restriction of the religion. So, the theory that says that it’s a form of supernatural duress doesn’t really work to explain why religious vegetarianism ought to be favored over ethical vegetarianism.

            Addendum: Likewise, no on inquires whether someone is subject to earthly duress either. Suppose I have been threatened with beatings on leaving prison if I have eaten onions. So, a religious dietary restriction with no repercussions would be honored while an earthly ones wouldn’t be.

  • Malcolm McLean

    No one wants to be sent to Nam, whilst everyone else is having free love and smoking pot at uni.
    So rules of conscientious objection have to be quite strict. If someone can show that, for many years, they’ve been attending a chuch which bans bearing arms, then that carries some weight. But anyone can invent a moral objection to war, when the truth is they just prefer to be elsewhere.
    I object to conscription, needless to say, because if young American men don’t think their country is worth defending, then it isn’t.

    • Yoav

      And if you happened to be a rich mormon then you could demonstrate in favor of the draft and then get a religious deferment so you can go to Paris instead.

      • FBG

        Or you could go throw your life, your body, and/or your sanity away on whatever war the USG is waging on behalf of profiteers.

        • Yoav

          You haven’t actually read my comment did you?

    • Hat Stealer

      The issue is that the government is treating religous moral objection as worth more than nonreligous moral objection. This strikes me as unconstitutional, and even if it wasn’t, it would still be wrong.

      Why should morals based on logic, empathy and reason be less valuble than morals based on fairy tales?

      • Malcolm McLean

        It’s the practicality. If I just say “oh, I’m a Quaker now, I don’t believe in going to Afghanistan” the draft board can say “well no, you’ve been a Catholic for years and year. Catholics had the sovereign military orders. So you can’t claim conscientious objection because you’re a Catholic. You might have converted to being a Quaker in the last five minutes, but we don’t accept that”. That’s reasonable. If someone’s got a longstanding record of attendance at Quaker meetings, on the other hand, then the conscientious objection can be accepted as genuine.

        Now if someone says “I’ve got a moral objection”, then it’s very hard to prove that that’s genuine, as opposed to just being made up for convenience. If they are someone like Peter Singer, whose ethical views are widely known, and defended in all their nuances in the literature, then their own account of the matter can be accepted. But for Joe Bloggs it’s much harder.

        Why should be assume that atheist values are based on logic, empathy and reason, by the way? Why should atheists base their views on these three principles?

        • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

          Why assume that anyone bases their principles on reason or empathy? There’s nothing special about atheists in this regard, unless you think that authoritarianism is a necessary requirement for having moral views. In which case, you should equally object to all religions which lack central authority (there are far more of those than the big three Monotheisms).

          As to the second question — first, why wouldn’t atheists base their views on reason and empathy? The null hypothesis is that atheists are very similar to other people, not strikingly different. Second, because they see it as the most justified basic values. Third, because it’s the most effective way to get what they want. There are plenty of other reasons we can come up with, and it’s actually an extremely well-worn discussion around the internet. You can find many atheist bloggers talking about exactly this question if you start looking for them.

          • Malcolm McLean

            We’re back to the previous discussion, “if you don’t know and omniscient being, you don’t know anything”. The Church claims authority. So you either accept the package – no God Emperors, no human sacrifice, no sex outside or marriage, no abortion, just war theory, no moral superiority for the wealthy, no priestesses, etc – or you reject it. If you reject it, in Church eyes you’re outside.

            Very few humans can choose bits and bats of moral teachings and values to adhere to, without subtly basing their views on grounds quite different to those advanced – logic, empathy, and reason. The Nam protestors were very self-righteous, but their moral views were also dreadfully convenient for middle class boys who preferred uni to fighting communism, don’t you agree?

            • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

              How does the church’s views (which church, anyway?) on anything lead necessarily to knowledge? The big three institutional monotheistic religions all claim special knowledge of the world. Unfortunately, they all contradict each other. Worse, they contradict scientific study in many places. (It’s worse because empirical analysis is independently reproducible, which is a much better basis for a factual view than “I said so”.)

              Likewise, why would any church’s views of who is “inside” and “outside” matter at all to the law or society? That’s not an argument; it’s just tribal affiliation. Mutual exclusion on the largest possible scale is not a good basis for civilization. Rather, it necessarily leads to conflict. Research the history of europe, Roman Empire to Enlightenment.

              As to the last part, that’s nothing new or special. Everyone chooses “bits and bats” of the moral teachings they’re taught. That includes the religious 100%. People who didn’t do this would simply be deterministic machines, not autonomous moral agents. The Jewish Torah, Christian Bible and Islamic Koran are not even self-consistent enough for it to be logically possible to actually follow all of their teachings all of the time.

              As to self-righteousness and convenience, they’re not mutually exclusive. You can be right and also be making the best decision for oneself. In fact, a lot of progress in society is actually dependent on this.

              Oh, and the Vietnam war had not a damn thing to do with fighting communism, as obviously proven by the outcome and subsequent policies. It was about protecting the last shreds of imperialism in southeast Asia and feeding the military-industrial complex. Communism as an ideology, never mind its actual totalitarian implementations, did not represent the kind of existential international threat many politicians claimed it did. It was merely a convenient scapegoat for whatever other policies they intended to implement, just as terrorism is today.

              • Malcolm McLean

                They don’t. You either accept that the Church speaks infallibly on matters of doctrine and morals (but not on politics, economics, literary criticism, science etc), or you reject it. It’s a package. The Church chooses the bits and bats of the Bible to follow.

                Now why should you bother? You don’t need to. If you accept that you’re outside of the Church, and you’re completely happy with that, then we’ve nothing much to say to you, as long as you don’t try to interfere in internals. We might have to act to protect other people or society from your draft-dodging dope-smoking casual-sex-promoting Nam protestor friends, who would have caused a Soviet dictatorship to take over if everyone had been like them.

                • 3lemenope

                  We might have to act to protect other people or society from your draft-dodging dope-smoking casual-sex-promoting Nam protestor friends, who would have caused a Soviet dictatorship to take over if everyone had been like them.

                  Uh, we lost. The United States lost the Vietnam War, achieved none of its strategic objectives, even while leveling the entire country, and left the people of Vietnam to a Soviet style dictatorship that they still live under today. This is as opposed to the American style puppet dictator we had installed in the South before we had him offed for not following orders.

                  None of that was because of draft-dodging dope-smoking casual-sex-promoting Nam protestors.

                • Malcolm McLean

                  Lost the battle, won the Cold War. The men who fell at Dunkirk are rightly numbered amongst the victors.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  Vietnam didn’t help us win the Cold War, you moron. If anything, it damaged us tremendously. It was also a terrible misapplication of the doctrine of containment that Kennan strongly denounced even at the time.

                  We “won” the Cold War because in the end, Russian leaders were sane enough not to hold onto a dying system. And then know what we did? We helped build Russia into the thriving, diverse democracy that it is today …. wait …

                • 3lemenope

                  [misplaced]

                • RobMcCune

                  Vietnam had as much to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union as Dunkirk had to do with the Euro crisis.

                • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

                  You mean like happened anyways, after the US decided to cut its losses? Newsflash: we didn’t win in Vietnam.

                  So given that we know the eventual outcome, was it worth it? Were all the red-blooded, Christian, pro-war anti-dope anti-sex people right and it was worth the blood, tears, and waste of resources? I’m going to go with no, it wasn’t worth it. You and your buddies should have joined the hippy dark side; maybe less people would have died if you had.

                • 3lemenope

                  We didn’t really recover until the USSR made a basically identical error in Afghanistan. Not to be outdone, we’re making the same error again again in Afghanistan too.

                  Land war in Asia. Graveyard of Empires. Yadda-yadda-yadda…

                • Little Magpie

                  And only slightly well known, is, never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!

                • Carmelita Spats

                  The Catholic Church? Not interfere in “internals”? If children are being viciously fucked by maladjusted virgins (priests) who consecrate the Eucharist and then turn around and stick their “celibate” penises into the mouths of children, then CIVILIZED society MUST interfere, prod and poke and yank, your “internals” before your sick cult damages a child’s externals.Crimen Sollicitationis is an organizational document demonstrating active malice and pointing at an organized crime syndicate. The ONLY response should be to treat the church as a racketeering entity with RICO.

                  1.Mug shots of consecrating perverts….http://www.bishop-accountability.org/

                  2. Crimen Sollicitationis:http://www.vatican.va/resources/resources_crimen-sollicitationis-1962_en.html

                  3. RICO:http://www.thefreedictionary.com/RICO

                  4. Criminal liability for bishops: http://patrickjwall.wordpress.com/

                  5. Pedophile priest who would masturbate boys before Mass. It is documented…http://www.elmundo.es/america/2010/12/04/mexico/1291429000.html

        • Hat Stealer

          If a person says that they object to killing just to get out of the army, why would we force them to stay? Basically it just boils down to “mandatory military service is wrong,” which I think you agree with anyway.

          • Malcolm McLean

            I do. But if a country goes down the conscription route, the rules for exemption have to be fair, and not so generous as to amount to de facto voluntary service.

      • Kodie

        Why should morals based on logic, empathy and reason be less valuble than morals based on fairy tales?

        It’s not her morals they are checking, it’s the validity of her objection.

    • kaydenpat

      So you’re okay with treating atheists as second class to those with religious beliefs? Not sure why you can’t see that that is wrong in a democracy. The US is not a theocracy (at least not yet).

    • adamk

      If nobody wants to be sent to Nam, why should anyone be sent there?

  • Brian Westley

    yep, Welsh v. United States settled this exact issue 43 years ago.

  • Eldergothfather

    Y’know, it’s making is so that I don’t even wanna live in this country with religious poultroons and any government official that could make this decision !?!?!?! May they be well scrod!

  • DividedUnderGod.com
  • ORAXX

    What a world. The only way, evidently, one can justify not wanting to kill their fellow humans is if an invisible man in the sky is telling them not to.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      Yes, and what happens when the invisible man starts telling them to kill all of a particular group of people? According to the “good book”, it’s happened before.

  • Jason Hinchliffe

    File this one under “So stupid I’m just going to facepalm and move on”.

  • crden

    Can she find a Humanist group leader to sign it? The Supreme Court has recognized Humanism as a religion…

  • Jeffrey Stuart Nelson

    It is perhaps a moot point, but back when there was a draft for males, there was a similar gotcha trap with regards to being a concientious objector/non-combatant/combtant and I remember being taught that the recruiters (or whomever) would try to trap you into being a combatant on grounds that you weren’t religious enough or something…

    That’s really problematic…and if the draft should come back (I think it should if we are going to have military) this needs to be addressed.

  • observer

    I don’t get what they’re trying to get at here: she says she’s anti-war, as she’s against killing – but because she’s an athiest, it must mean she’s immoral – since she’s immoral, thend she’s willing to take a human life – thus, she’d be a traitor in the military because she might inhumanly kill the enemy?

    Or maybe they don’t like the idea that she has morals, like a religious person (“my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God”), but she’s an athiest, and that’s offensive.

    “[U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services] told her that if she had a “conscientious objection,” it had to be on religious grounds, not moral ones.”

    I’m really curious of what they actually said, because it sounds as though they admitted that religion and morality are NOT synonymous.

    • Little Magpie

      Observer said:

      > but because she’s an athiest, it must mean she’s immoral – since she’s
      > immoral, thend she’s willing to take a human life – thus, she’d be a
      > traitor in the military because she might inhumanly kill the enemy?

      I would just like to respond that this train of thought reminded me of a part of Arlo Guthrie’s “Alice’s Restaurant”:

      ” I went over to the sargent, said, “Sargeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I’ve rehabilitated myself,
      I mean, I mean, I mean that just, I’m
      Sittin’ here on the bench, I mean I’m sittin here on the Group W bench
      ’cause you want to know if I’m moral enough join the army, burn women,
      Kids, houses and villages after bein’ a litterbug.” He looked at me and
      Said, “Kid, we don’t like your kind, …..and we’re gonna send you fingerprints Off to Washington.”

  • Ruth

    As a Mennonite and thus a member of one of the recognized historic peace churches, I’m very upset that the right of conscientious objection isn’t being extended to everyone equally. This is a right/privilege which the various HPCs worked hard for (less than 100 years ago, our members were held in prison camps when they wouldn’t fight in WWI) and limiting it just to us or to people whose pastors are willing to back them up on it is awful. I don’t think I or we have some special or more valid claim to pacifism/conscientious objection.

    My church is a rather activist one, so I’m considering bringing it up on Sunday to see if we can organize something to support this woman’s application/get the limitation struck down.

    • Reginald Selkirk

      You’re not a “true” Mennonite if you’re using Teh Interwebz.

      • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ Feminerd

        Hey, that’s just rude. You’re probably joking, but the Internet makes it hard to read tone. Mennonites are allowed to use technology; how much depends on their exact church.

        • Ruth

          Word. Our Amish cousins (not ancestors, they came to exist much later than Mennonites and were a more conservative branch thereof) are the ones who don’t use technology. It’s not a matter of “allowed,” even. A few conservative Mennonite groups don’t allow it, for the rest it’s as “allowed” as anyone else is “allowed” to use it. Just like I’m currently wearing jeans & a Cthulhu t-shirt & my hair’s in a short cut and nobody in my church would think twice about any of these things.

          • carllarsen

            not even the cthulhu tee shirt? wow. nice church. many of non religious stripe would have a problem with that. peace be with you.

          • amycas

            I’ve never met a menonite woman who was “allowed” (I guess I can use that word for it) to wear something other than the homemade dresses and “allowed” to cut her hair. I used to live and work near a large Menonite group/church, and they would come into my work all the time. I don’t know if it was just common at their church, or if the women were told not to, but they always had long hair, done up in a bun underneath a little white cap, and they always wore homemade dresses (so did the children though). Mostly very sweet people, but I’d never heard of that church until I moved there.

      • allein

        Mennonite doesn’t necessarily mean Amish.

    • pirate_froglet

      According to the letter sent, there is a form to fill out for non-religious, the immigration guy just totally ignored or forgot about it.

      • Ruth

        That’s good to know.

    • amycas

      Thank you

  • AthiestAtLARGE

    So why is it that ignorance of the law is no excuse when youre driving your car or what ever, but when it comes to the cops (that should know the law) and government officials (again that should know the law concerning their jobs at least) NOTHING is done to these people … just try not wearing your seat belt and get caught

    • 3lemenope

      A pernicious doctrine called qualified immunity. That, as far as the law is concerned, the beginning and end of the story, though the reasons why it exists in its current form are unsurprisingly driven by all the tried and true motivations of people with power protecting their own asses.

    • http://kagerato.net/ kagerato

      Good question. The sad answer is that the law is not blind to power, though it ought to be. People with privilege and influence get leeway that us ordinary citizens do not. Perhaps this is tied to fear of retribution, where punishing the powerful may lead to oneself being affected.

      We can similarly ask the question of why bankers never go to jail anymore. Is the population indifferent to corruption? Maybe, maybe not. Seems more like they’re given up hope on effective action. Perhaps some are just biding time for the right moment. Mainly though, I think it’s that no one has enough time to actually deal with all the problems society faces.

  • LesterBallard

    I don’t think I can express how angry this makes me, it would only be a string of obscenities, so I’m not even going to try.

  • Tom

    Maybe they’re just jealous because she figured out how to be moral all by herself.

  • vulpix

    I’m an atheist, but I feel I need to clarify a few things, as the headline of this article is highly misleading.

    First, it is important to note that the application has NOT been “denied.” The USCIS officer simply requested additional evidence, as per 8 USC § 1448 cited above. 8 USC § 1448 states, “The term ‘religious training and belief’ as used in this section shall mean an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.” While there are good reasons to have this law (and others like it) changed, this simply is the current law, and the officer was correct to request additional evidence.

    The Freedom From Religion Foundation letter rightly references “parallel” worldviews that are equivalent to religious beliefs. I suspect that any letter attesting to the applicant’s humanism would fulfill this requirement.

    Finally, it’s also important to note that the questions posed on the N-400 were formulated decades ago and haven’t changed since. N-400 applicants are also asked if they have ever been a “habitual drunkard” or if they “have ever been a member of or associated with the Communist party.” If the applicant had checked “yes” to these questions without providing the necessary evidence for exemption, the officer probably would have been requested additional evidence for these questions as well.

    Non-citizens are not guaranteed the right to citizenship. Certainly, some of the requirements for citizenship are outdated, and there are good reasons to have the laws changed; but claiming her application is “being denied because she’s an atheist” is simply misleading.

  • closetatheist

    *GASP* So, this means that one can have morals based on something other than religious fantasies!? WHAT?! But I thought religious people knew for sure than morals only come from imaginary beings which dole out imaginary rewards and punishments! AND morally motivated people can even have the same values as religiously motivated people? who knew?

  • Quincy S.

    This may sound absolutely crazy, but I’m actually faced with a similar situation. When my wife and I had our interview for her citizenship status, our interviewer made inappropriate remarks and gave us looks about our atheism. She then told us “our case didn’t look very strong.” I sent a email to the ACLU preemptively, in case this would play a part in any rejection of her citizenship, but I never heard back from them. It is very disheartening to see this happening to someone, it doesn’t give me very much hope for our future.

    • Jayn

      I’m kind of surprised that would be an issue. While I’m not comfortable with the clause about being willing to bear arms, I don’t recall religion coming up at all during my own immigration. Sadly, that doesn’t sound particularly crazy given the religious landscape of this country :/

    • Mario Strada

      Mine neither. I became a citizen around 2000 and religion was not an issue at all. I don’t recall anyone asking me and if there was a questionnaire I probably either left it blank or marked “Other”.

      However, another thing that struck me as odd is this: Does the US really need 64 year old grandmothers to go fight wars in its behalf? You would think that there would be an age limit in regard to taking up arm to defend the land.

      • Kodie

        I think it’s not seriously asking will she fight, but would she choose the US over her country of origin to defend, if it came down to it. I am not a naturalization expert, having been born here, but they don’t want to naturalize traitors, obviously.

  • vexorian

    Wait, is this whole thing because the USCIS really believes in the very hypothetical scenario that this 64 years old woman will be drafted to the military?

  • Hell’s Devil

    This is confusing. She seems to have said in her statement that she HAS religious beliefs…?

  • Julie AV

    She should just admit that she is a fundamentalist Islamist and she’ll get right in. (Not)

  • j4ckl3

    Strange, considering how conscious objectors from vietname who fled the country to Canada were given amnesty and allowed to come back into the United States. I find it sad that people fleeing opression, much like our forfather, are told “Sorry you we have opression here too.”.

  • te’Shara

    When my ex filed his paperwork there was nothing like this in it.

  • Marty Holden

    Duh, it’s Houston, staffed By Texans.

  • cryofly

    There are the laws, and then there is the commonsense.

  • Desertman50

    The woman was granted citizenship.

  • Desertman50

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