Atheist not allowed to be conscientious objector

A 64 year-old British woman has been told she has to be part of a religion to be a conscientious objector to taking up arms while applying for US citizenship. The USCIS has reportedly told Margaret Doughty she has until June 21 of this year to “submit a letter on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that you are a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”

DividedUnderGod — This is not the first time a non-religious person has raised a conscientious objection to joining the armed forces. In fact, related issues have gone to the Supreme Court and have been ruled in favor of the non-religious objector. In Welsh v. United States, Elliott Ashton Welsh refused to take up arms on a moral objection rather than a religious one. However, under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, one could only object to joining the armed forces based on a religious conviction involving a Supreme Being. The Court agreed that Welsh could be considered a conscientious objector based on his personal moral grounds, and that the exemption being purely religious was a violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

It appears that Margaret Doughty is facing a very similar First Amendment violation. As a conscientious objector to war, she is basing her position on her personal ethical code rather than a religious one. The response from the INS suggesting her claim must be based on religion is the same sort of First Amendment violation we saw in Welsh v. US.


  1. says

    This is why I didn’t sign as a CO when the draft board sent me my papers. I just threw them out. This does mean, though, that I can never work for the Federal Government (unless I should somehow get elected to federal office, of course).

  2. psweet says

    In her case, she’s 64 years old and female — I get it that this is a principled stand she’s taking, but as a practical matter it’s pretty much moot, isn’t it?

  3. slc1 says

    I’m a little confused here. Since there is no longer a draft, why is the issue of CO relevant to anything?

  4. says

    Well, here in the States, men are required to register for the draft at age 18 (although there’s a window until you’re 25). If you don’t you are technically liable for some minor legal penalties, and, as I indicated above, are barred from employment with the Federal Government.

  5. F [is for fluvial] says

    Because it really isn’t about one’s own conscience, it’s about submitting to the imposed morality of a religion.

  6. says

    So now she needs a letter from her church stating the churches stance on armed defense of the nation. On church letterhead paper.

    Wonder if the Pastafarians have letter head paper.

  7. says

    @Dalillama #4 – Actually, not so minor.

    Federal law REQUIRES that every male US citizen, and every male non-citizen living within the jurisdiction of US law, register with the Selective Service within 30 days of turning 18, and that they keep this registration current through their 25th birthday for as long as they are either a citizen or residing within the US. The only legal exceptions are non-citizens within the US who are here on specific temporary visas, such as tourist, education or diplomatic; this includes males of the appropriate age here on H-1b visas. Mental or physical capacity, past or current incarceration, and current status as a conscientious objector are NOT exemptions. Failure to follow this law can result in a federal felony conviction and a punishment of a fine of up to $250,000 and/or a federal prison sentence of up to 5 years. In practice, the last prosecution was in 1992; however, the inability to show current registration, or failure to have registered during the required timeframe, will disqualify you from pretty much every federal program, including scholarships, subsidized student loans and job training. Most states and schools, under pressure from the federal government, have made registration a requirement for their programs, too.

    The courts determined in the 1980s, after the draft registration has been reinstated, that conscientious objection could be applied only to actual service, not to registration. The legal basis for this ruling was the historic fact that CO status was not granted by the Selective Service or any other branch of the federal government: it was given solely at the discretion of local draft boards. Until a draft is invoked and draft boards are called into existence, there is no legal recognition of CO status in the United States.

    As for this particular situation, it is in a legal grey area. That question has been a part of the naturalization process since the late 40s and has been pretty well vetted by the Courts. The basis for the requirement is to try and weed out people moving to this country with the intent of becoming a citizen and then committing treason in support of their former homeland. The question (and several others) is asked under oath: a person of genuine conscience would likely not lie, and a person without conscience can be stripped of citizenship for lying under oath during the immigration process. And since she is not a citizen yet, several decades of court rulings restrict what rights she has access to under the Constitution. It will be very interesting to see how this plays out.

    I went through draft counselor training back in the 80s, when I was in high school, and have kept up with the changes in the law since. If anyone has questions about the situation in the US, feel free to ask.

  8. slc1 says

    Re Gregory @ #7

    Even if one is a CO, one has to register for a draft that has been suspended for some 40 years. Only if the draft was reinstituted would the status of CO come up.

  9. says

    Gregory explained it perfectly. It has nothing to with draft registration. It’s all about a question in the citizenship application to the effect of “Are you willing to take up arms in defense of the United States?” There is an exemption for conscientious objectors. The demand that she submit a statement of doctrinal teaching from a “church” discriminates both against the non-religious and against non-Christians. Not only does she have rock-solid grounds for an appeal, the clerk who sent her that letter needs to be disciplined for that “church” language.

    Of course, when America’s last line of defense in a sextegenerian immigrant, we’re pretty much screwed.

  10. StevoR : Free West Papua, free Tibet, let the Chagossians return! says

    Well you can’t be a conscientious objector without a conscience can you – and everyone knows them soulless athiest can’t have consciences and are also evil and possessed by teh Debbil!

    (Do I really need a sarcasm tag for this? Sadly, maybe I do – okay then : This is sarcasm and intended to show how stupid and absurd such a position /policy and view really is.)

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