On 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.