After Initially Being Denied U.S. Citizenship Because of Her Atheism, Margaret Doughty’s Application Has Been Approved

Just a few days ago, we heard about how 64-year-old Margaret Doughty was being denied citizenship in America because she was an atheist.

Part of the citizenship application asked her if she would “take up arms in defense of the United States.” She answered:

… 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

In short, she was an atheist whose moral beliefs did not allow her to fight in a war.

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

An uproar ensued and Doughty’s story was shared all over the Internet. Both the FFRF and the American Humanist Association wrote letters to the USCIS on her behalf.

There’s finally good news to report:

Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-TX) took action on this and his office sent Doughty a wonderful response earlier today:

This Service hereby withdraws the request for evidence (RFE) issued on June 7, 2013. This Service accepts your detailed statement in satisfaction of the information requested by the RFE. Your application for naturalization has been approved.

Congratulations to her and to her stepson, Chris Johnson, for bringing this story to everyone’s attention.

The AHA also shares Doughty’s joy:

“The Constitution requires that secular beliefs and religious beliefs be treated equally under the law, and we’re pleased that officials at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services have reversed course and recognized this,” said Bill Burgess, attorney for the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “We hope Margaret Doughty’s case ensures that non-religious applicants for U.S. citizenship are treated fairly.”

As soon as Margaret received this e-mail, she called AHA’s attorney Monica Miller. “I am truly grateful for all of the wonderful support I have received in this process,” Margaret said to Miller. Margaret added, “I think the AHA letter swayed everything.”

***Update***: FFRF also celebrates the victory:

In a phone conversation with Seidel, Doughty expressed her gratitude for FFRF’s prompt action in defense of atheists.

Seidel commented: “We’re thrilled to have helped the courageous Margaret Doughty become a citizen and know she will be an asset to this country.” But, according to Seidel, FFRF still has concerns: “How many other applicants without Ms. Doughty’s experience, level of cultural immersion, and grasp of English have had, or will have, a similar burden imposed on them? We intend to pursue this matter with USCIS until the ineptitude or discrimination is rooted out of that office. Nonbelievers are welcome in America.

I don’t say this often about Republicans, but many thanks to Congressman Farenthold. If you live in Texas, consider sending him a thank-you note.

Doughty will become an official U.S. citizen on June 26th.

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.

  • Booze And Nonsense

    This is amazingly awesome. It’s great to know that the government is acknowledge that we can be secular and moral, but I wish it didn’t take this much pressure to do it.


    Thanks for helping to spread the word, Hemant!

  • jferrist

    I do live in Texas, and I will be sending a note. A REPUBLICAN Texan stepping up for this? The odds are better at winning the lottery.

  • sam

    A Republican from Texan permitting a pacifist, atheist foreigner into the country? What is this, the second coming?

    • Timothy R Alexander

      Oh good, I wasnt the only one with a serious WTF on that.

      • stop2wonder

        Yeah, I did a double take too.

    • Amaranth

      Hey, not all Republicans are evil, you know.

      • Good Ole Dave

        ..all but one obviously :P

  • Dekker Van Wyk

    Congratulations Margret & son! Next question: Will the prick who issued the RFE be disciplined in any way?

    • Sarah

      From the brief reading I have done on this,it seems unlikely as the law as currently written does appear to require religious belief to be a conscientious objector. With that in mind, we need to lobby for a change in this statute and not let this be one high profile exception.

      • sailor

        You are right, she was not initially denied citizenship because she was an atheist, but because the law says the only route to conscience objection is religious. Everyone was following the well trodden procedures and doing the legal thing. Today, when national conscription no longer exists, this is no longer of much importance, but for many years previously it was. Anyway like everyone else I am happy this particular case worked out well.

      • Dekker Van Wyk

        I see…well hopefully the prospect of another crapstorm will prevent this statute from being applied in the future. BTW, is this statute not flagrantly unconstitutional?

  • Frank Key

    Hispanics are the largest ethnic group in his mostly coastal district so it is not a total surprise he would be more sympathetic towards immigration issues than congressmen in most other Texas districts. Very happy he stepped forward and did the right thing.

  • randomfactor

    Bravo to the representative.

  • Beth

    Welcome Madam! We are happy to have you!

  • tasteless chap

    This is wonderful for her, but terrible for the greater society. This illustrates to all of us, that when a gov’t organization (and probably corporate organizations also) treat you unfairly, you MUST become an overnight celebrity to have corrective action taken. What if her stepson hadn’t publicized her story? Would the USCIS have corrected this?!

    • Tobias2772

      It’s called a redress of grievances. Lots of organizations exist in this country to take advantage of that right.

    • baal

      Eh, I’ve had my passport expidited by calling my Senators office. You can also as a single private citizen goto a committee meeting and ask the State to pay for all sorts of things like a new off ramp for a highway or some legal variance. Legislatures don’t always like self serving crap but can and do act on citizen requests all the time.

  • Madison

    I am nearly brought to an emotional level of happiness when I see what that Representative from Texas did for her. My eyes are seriously welling. What he did for her was a real act of human decency and moral. Truly commendable. Hopefully because of the media attention this story is getting there will be less necessity for such bullshit in the future.. but that is a very big “hopefully,” is it not?

  • Ben_Hall_AU

    So I presume the last few decades of illegally denied citizenship applications will now be reviewed?

  • Atheist

    Sounds like she’s not willing to fight for her country and in the meantime spun it to atheism, making the rest of us atheists look just as pathetic as she is. If you are not willing to fight for the USA, you have no right to be a citizen here, gtfo.

    • TheWhiteBee

      As a pacifist atheist American, that is bull. I don’t see that fighting is something that wonderful. I personally would fight only if given extremely good reason to. War is not desirable in the least, and if more people took a stand against it, maybe there would be fewer of them. Being willing to fight doesn’t make you better than a person who is not willing to. People bring many different skills to a country. Some are teachers, some are scientists, some are storytellers. Some make a difference by fighting; some make a difference by telling us where to get off in our hero worship of soldiers. Anyone who fights is risking their life, and deserves respect and support, but in glorifying war and saying that willingness to fight is a prerequisite for citizenship, we only make war more prevalent and harder to avoid.

    • Glasofruix

      She’s 64 years old you dimwit, they shouldn’t have asked her that question in the first place…

    • Randay

      “not willing to fight”. You mean like GW Bush, Dick Cheney, the neocons, Bill O’Reilly, etc. who started wars and supported the Vietnam War but were not willing to fight it themselves when they had the chance. I don’t include Clinton because he opposed the war.

      Christians cannot take the high ground here because the Bible does not provide “moral” instructions against war. Paul several times wrote that you are not saved by works, but only by faith in Jesus. So it doesn’t matter what Christians do, moral or not, as long as they have the faith. The Bible is hardly a basis for moral values among them “conscientious objection”.

    • Tobias2772

      I think there are plenty of ways that she (or anybody) can contribute to our country without fighting. Maybe if we honored other types of service they way we honor fighting, we could stay out of a few of these messes. A teacher is just as patriotic as a soldier.

    • jaduncan

      Actually, she also stated that she would participate in the military in a non-combat role such as stretcher carrier.

    • Randay

      How could I forget to mention these other “not willing to fight”, Mitt Romney and his sons? The former was on “important” Mormon missionary work in France and the latter were too busy with their father’s campaigns.

    • Space Cadet

      Being born in the USA, and this applies to everybody in every country, doesn’t mean that you will automatically agree with everything the government says or does, and that includes going to war. I won’t say that I’d be unwilling to fight in every conceivable war. There could be a situation that I’d be willing to take up arms for, but I should have the right to make that decision, not have that decision thrust upon me.

    • DannyEastVillage

      on the basis of your argument, you don’t sound conspicuously intelligent.

    • Good Ole Dave

      Look my silly little atheist friend. here’s a little edumacation fer ‘ya.

      Of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, 41 of them were Pilgrims–religious dissenters called Separatists, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey, were founded by the Quaker pacifist William Penn. The framers of the U.S. Constitution even considered including an exemption from military service for conscientious objectors in the Second Amendment. And, at the onset of the Revolutionary War, George Washington issued a draft order, which was a call to “all young men of suitable age to be drafted, except those with conscientious scruples against war.

      So, Mr. Big-Bad-Atheist, If you don’t like them apples, the notions our founding fathers regarded in relation to citizens objecting to going to war, you can kindly, you yourself, “gtfo”.

      Trust me, it’s uneducated, intolerant, belittling and dehumanizing uh…people, for lack of better word, that has caused me to expat. Wait, wait, don’t tell me…”love it, or leave it” right? Beat ‘ya to it. I’m already gone, and now enjoying real peace…oh yeah, and really great cheap Czech beer. Have a nice day kid. :)

  • rcasha

    I hope that they put a post-it note somewhere saying “non-religious conscientious objection acceptable” so they don’t repeat this.

  • stop2wonder

    Bravo to the Republican Congressman for actually upholding one of the parts of the Constitution that goes against the grain of the Republican platform. I’m sure it wasn’t the popular thing to do but it was the right thing, especially considering the Republican cherry picking that usually goes on when it comes to supporting it.

  • vulpix

    For the love of FSM, Doughty was never “denied U.S. Citizenship” in the first place. USCIS merely submitted a request for evidence—the same type of request she probably would have received if she had checked “yes” to the “habitual drunkard” or “associated with the Communist party” questions also asked on the N-400.

    I’m an atheist, humanist, and secularist, too—but I’m also honest. Spreading misleading, dishonest headlines like this around hurts our cause much more than it helps it.

    • Tobias2772


      The way I read this, they requested evidence and when it wasn’t religiously supported, they rejected the evidence. This is where FFRF and AHA stepped in – to reject the necessity of religiously based evidence for Ms. Doughty’s position.
      I don’t think the headline is very misleading and the article presents the facts clearly and without hyperbole.

      • Guest

        No evidence was “rejected.” She submitted no evidence other than a self-affidavit, so *additional* evidence was requested per 8 USC § 1448, which specifically 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.”

        Granted, this particular law is unfair and ought to be amended—but USCIS wasn’t wrong simply to request additional evidence, If she had actually been denied, this might have been a story… but she wasn’t denied. If she had checked “yes” to the Communist question without providing supporting documentation for exemption, she probably would have been asked for additional evidence as well.

      • vulpix

        No evidence was “rejected.” She submitted no evidence for exemption other than a self-affidavit, so *additional* evidence was requested per 8 USC § 1448, which specifically 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.”

        Granted, this particular law is unfair and ought to be amended—but USCIS wasn’t wrong simply to request additional evidence and note the above law in the request. There is no story here because the applicant was never denied. If she had checked “yes” to the Communist question without providing supporting documentation for exemption, she probably would have been asked for additional evidence as well.

        The pointless outrage over this non-story just makes atheists look like whiners.

        • Tobias2772

          Any so-called outrage that I might feel is strictly because an atheist was treated differently than a mythologist under the law. The rest of your explanation, while valid, does nothing to alleviate my concern.

          • vulpix

            I agree. :) All legally mandated special privileges afforded specifically to the religious ought to be amended, including 8 USC § 1448.

            (Sorry about the double-post, BTW. Disqus glitched on me and posted my draft as a “guest,” making it impossible to delete.)

        • UWIR

          Let’s review your claims:
          1. She submitted a self-affidavit
          2. The self-affidavit was rejected
          3. No evidence was rejected

          Ergo, you are implicitly asserting that a self-affidavit is not evidence. That is just plain absurd. An affidavit is a statement signed under penalty of perjury. It most certainly is evidence. Now, it might not be considered sufficient evidence, but then what would be?

          She requested citizenship. She (initially) was not given citizenship. Therefore, she was denied citizenship. You’re playing a bunch of rhetorical games to justify a claim that Hemant is being dishonest. That’s silly.

    • URDUM

      Completely agreed. As a former journalist, its tough to see all of these sensationalist headlines. As more blogs morph into news sites, maybe it’s a sign of the times.

  • xyz123atheist

    Welcome to America, US Citizen Margaret Doughty.

  • Britt Peter

    Dear Margaret: Congratulations from one conscientious objector to another. -Britt Peter (part of the Seeger, Jakobson, Peter decision 48 years ago)