Margaret Doughty, Who Was Almost Denied U.S. Citizenship Because of Her Atheism, Tells Her Story

You may recall the story of Margaret Doughty, the 64-year-old who was denied citizenship in America because she was an atheist.

When asked if she would “take up arms in defense of the United States,” she told them she would not because her moral convictions as an atheist prevented her from fighting in a war. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) initially told her that if she had a “conscientious objection,” it had to be on religious grounds and not moral ones. But they eventually caved in after an internet uproar and some help from a Republican representative from Tennessee.

The Humanists of Houston invited Doughty to speak about her life and the controversy at an event in November and her speech is now up online:

Check it out! Please leave any notable timestamps and summaries in the comments.

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Rudy R

    So the USCIS doesn’t equate religions with being moral. Go figure.

  • Gottlos und Frei

    So its not because she is an atheist, but because she refuses to “Take up arms”. I think there is a difference.

  • Ann Onymous

    It wasn’t that Doughty was told she had to take up arms to be a citizen. She was a conscientious objector (acceptable). Then she was told that conscientious objection had to be on religious grounds; she couldn’t object on (secular) moral grounds. So she had 2 options: not become a citizen, or join a church and get a letter from its elders by June 21st (article published June 15th) saying “that her religious justifications for conscientious objection are sound”.
    So she wasn’t denied for being a conscientious objector. Doughty was denied for not having a religion to back up/justify her conscientious objection.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    not that i think she should have to had done this, but she could’ve joined any number of UU type churches and received officially recognized objector status.

    of course, it’s total bullshit that she was almost discriminated against for being an honest atheist in the first place.

  • Stev84

    The better way is to cite the relevant legal cases and show that conscientious objection doesn’t have to be religion based. This is a settled matter.

  • Lark62

    Try a little reading comprehension.

    If she refuses to take up arms and attends religious worship she is eligible for citizenship. If she refuses to take up arms and does not attend religious worship she is not eligible for citizenship. It is very clear the difference is the lack of religious belief.

  • Spurs Fan

    The original article cites the legislator involved as Blake Farenthold, a Republican from my state of Texas. This one says Tennessee. A correction might be needed (and even we Texans who generally oppose Farenthold are thankful that he got this one right).

  • Guest

    I think

  • Svelaz

    I don’t know if would completely blame the USCIS for this issue. I think it has to do with a societal norm of sorts. I think since atheism is being more and more widely seen for what it is, it is not quite there yet. Like any old presumption it takes a long time for it to change. To be moral is to be religious. That alone was or in this case still is the dominant presumption regarding morality. The very moral folks who champion such things see it fit to have earned the capacity to judge who is moral and who isn’t based on their own supposed superior morality simply because they are religious. These days it is becoming more prevalent just exactly what an atheist is and what they represent. I have had many heated and sometimes comical discussions with very fervent religious people who just cannot grasp the concept of not being a part of ANY religion simply because of the morality issue. It is completely alien to them, hugely uncomfortable at times even. Many regress into more comforting thoughts and…ahem prayers and just plain put a “your a demon” stamp on you and that’s that. I have often observed that with people like that complexity makes anything distrustful. Simplicity is more comforting a simple good or bad explanation to nearly everything suffices. Nuances, complex issues, distinguishing between good bad and bad bad. I guess anything more complicated than what should be simple is scary to many of them. Doughty showed to what seemed an impossibility to many who took it as common sense that morality MUST come from religious affiliation a reality that morality is NOT attached to religion. Clearly the education of this distinction will be or should be the defining moment when all religions suddenly become less important as a whole. It will happen someday but today is happening one baby step at a time.

  • Brian Westley

    The supreme court ruled back in 1970 that CO status couldn’t be limited to just religious soldiers in Welsh v. US:

    http://atheism.about.com/library/decisions/religion/bl_l_WelshUS.htm

  • VCP

    The whole clip is worth watching, but she gets a big laugh at 25:00 (starting at 24:30). She reminds me of the British actress Brenda Blethyn.

  • TVG

    Why do you want to be a citizen of a country that treats you that way?