U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) denied a woman’s applicant for naturalization based on her stated reasons why she would not be willing to “bear arms on behalf of the United States.” Federal immigration law allows a naturalization applicant to decline to take an oath to bear arms if he or she can demonstrate a religious objection. The woman stated in her application that she is an atheist with significant personal convictions against war and violence, and USCIS denied her application. It reversed its decision after secular advocacy groups, such as the American Humanist Association (AHA) intervened on her behalf. The woman’s case is the second in the past year involving the denial of a naturalization application based on religion.
The applicant, who is originally from Colombia, became a permanent resident of the United States in 2008. She applied for naturalization in October 2013. In her Form N-400, she identified herself as an atheist and provided a statement explaining her unwillingness to take the full oath of allegiance. She described her own history of advocacy for non-violence, and drew on Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Jiddu Krishnamurti to provide a secular explanation for her principles. She also noted that it was unlikely that she would ever be called to serve in the military, but that she wanted to provide an honest answer. On January 29, 2014, USCIS denied her application, reportedly solely because of her opposition to bearing arms.
Federal immigration law requires applicants for naturalization to state their willingness to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, including an oath “to bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law.” 8 U.S.C. § 1448(a)(5)(A). The statute allows a person to omit the “bear arms” provision if they show, by clear and convincing evidence, that they are opposed to military service “by reason of religious training and belief.” The statute also specifically states that this term refers to “belief in relation to a Supreme Being” but not “political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.”
The AHA wrote a letter to USCIS on the woman’s behalf, first noting that the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, prohibits the government from affiliating with any particular religion, favoring one belief over another, or favoring belief over nonbelief. See Allegheny Co. v. ACLU, 492 U.S. 573, 593 (1989). It also cited Supreme Court cases that specifically address religious requirements for conscientious objectors, including one holding that such objections could be based on “moral, ethical, or religious beliefs about what is right and wrong…held with the strength of traditional religious convictions.” Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333, 340 (1970).
USCIS reportedly reversed its decision and approved the woman’s application in March 2014. The AHA intervened in an almost identical situation in 2013 with a woman from the United Kingdom whose application was denied, then later approved, by USCIS. Partly because of this, the organization wrote to USCIS again in late March to request clarification of its policies regarding naturalization of conscientious objectors.
Immigration lawyer Samuel C. Berger practices in the New York and New Jersey areas. We advise families and businesses on how to help immigrants come to the U.S., and we help immigrants obtain visas and green cards. To schedule a confidential consultation with a member of our legal team, please contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117.
More Blog Posts:
First Volume of USCIS’s Planned 12-Volume Policy Manual Addresses Citizenship and Naturalization, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 7, 2013
Senate Bill Targets People Who Allegedly Renounce Citizenship to Avoid Taxes, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2012
Study Finds that Citizenship Test May Not Be Reliable, New York & New Jersey Immigration Lawyer Blog, March 15, 2012
Photo credit: Mark Barker [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.