USCIS Retracts Request for Evidence of Religious Status; Margaret Doughty Awarded Citizenship

doughtyOn Friday June 14th, we broke the story of Margaret Doughty, a 64-year old atheist from the UK who was told by the USCIS that in order to gain conscientious objector status, she would need to provide evidence of a religious reason for her objection “on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that [she is] a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”  This was a clear violation of the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause, as pointed out in a similar Supreme Court Case, Welsh v. United States.

The story hit the national stage, featured in articles on CNN, Huffington Post, Raw Story, RichardDawkins.net, and many others. Ms. Doughty’s case was brought to the attention of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who wrote a letter to the USCIS on her behalf, as well as the American Humanist Association, who did the same.  Ms. Doughty’s local Congressman, Blake Farenthold, also got involved, helping to get her case escalated to the highest levels of the USCIS for review.

Today, she received an email from the congressional office with the following message from the USCIS included:

“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.”

Margaret Doughty’s case can be seen as a victory for the non-religious in the U.S., many times referred to as the “nones” (based on religious affiliation questionnaire categories). Often called the fastest growing demographic in the country, those not affiliated with a religion are said to make up about 20% of the population.  Atheists fall into this category, are widely misunderstood, and just as in this case, often discriminated against by the religious majority. Recent polls have shown atheists to be the least trusted group in America. In an effort to shed a brighter light on atheists, Ms. Doughty’s stepson, Chris Johnson – a New York based photographer, is close to releasing his book, A Better Life: 100 Atheists Speak Out on Joy and Meaning in a World Without God. In it, atheists discuss how they are no different than the people around you, because they are the people around you.  They are doctors, lawyers, mothers, fathers, neighbors, actors, comedians, writers, rock climbers, and the list goes on. In the case of Margaret Doughty, atheists are adult literacy workers, with the expectation of equal treatment by the government regardless of religious belief or affiliation.

And I’m proud to say that on June 26, 2013, I will call her my fellow American.

27 comments

  1. This should never have been a problem, but at least it was resolved in a short time without having to take legal action and wait for months. I hope whoever made the original decision has taken time to re-think the situation.

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    • Phil Jenkins says:

      It wouldn’t have been a decision as such but adherence to an obsolete (and implicitly unconstitutional) standard. The test will be whether they let this one go as a high profile exception or rewrite the rules in a more sensible fashion.

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  2. choperena says:

    The day of my citizenship interview on 1 Dec, 2010, I was given only two options to which I had to immediately answer: lie about my morals and accept to take up arms, or wait indefinitely for my case to be “examined”. Congratulations, and I wish I would have had your ability to think of another solution.

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  3. Stephan says:

    I happened upon your site checking for my mother-in-law to see if she (at 70 years old) has to say she would bear arms to be naturalized… but wanted to comment by saying I’m an evangelical minister who thinks this kind of discrimination is ridiculous too. Of course I want atheists to see the light and be saved, just as atheists would probably have the same thoughts about me (well saved from religion anyway.) But my point is that doesn’t mean we should be afraid of atheists or assume atheists are all evil or have no morals. I’m sure there are plenty of bad atheists just as there are plenty who do bad in the name of a god. Well, I just wanted to drop a line to let y’all know that we don’t all support these discriminatory actions. :-)

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      Kevin Davis says:

      Hi Stephan, thanks for your comment. It’s nice to hear from theists who don’t buy into the “atheists are evil and immoral” outlook. We’re regular people living full lives without religion. I wish you luck with your M-I-L’s naturalization, and if she runs into issues, please let me know. This article and the preceding one gained a lot of traction and played a big role in Ms. Doughty winning her case. I’m sure I could tap into the same resources should a similar case occur. Take care!

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