Upon review, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has decided that it was wrong to toss legal immigrant Adriana Ramirez’s application for U.S. citizenship just because she claimed conscientious objector status while declaring she is not religious.
Less than two weeks after the American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center wrote USCIS on behalf of the California resident, the agency reversed itself. The center cited a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that a person can declare themself a conscientous objector for secular reasons.
“Given the Supreme Court's unequivocal instruction that, to be consistent with the Constitution, the government must interpret a statute permitting conscientious objection on the basis of ‘religious’ belief to include comparable secular moral views, denying Ms. Ramirez's citizenship on the grounds that her secular moral beliefs are not 'religious' is unconstitutional.”
Attorneys for the center made virtually the same argument to CIS last June in Texas on behalf of British atheist Margaret Doughty. That denial of rights was also quickly reversed.
Ramirez had written in her citizenship application: “My commitment to non-combatancy is based on deep moral conviction. Accordingly, I respectfully request that the U.S. government honor its statutory exemption and allow me to take an alternate affirmation.” Ramirez also wrote that she objected to the phrase “so help me God” in the oath of citizenship because she doesn’t “hold such religious beliefs.”
The San Diego office of the USCIS, where Ramirez applied for citizenship, initially rejected her request based solely on her atheism. The rejection (pdf) said:
“You submitted a notarized statement, citing deep moral convictions as the basis for your unwillingness to take the full oath of alligence [sic]. Applicants for naturalization seeking an exemption from parts of the oath of alliegence [sic] must be based on religious training and belief: as defined by Section 337 of the INA. . . . [Y]our unwillingness is not based on religious training and belief.”
They were wrong—again—and either were ignorant of what transpired in Texas eight months ago or didn’t care. That very public case was also reversed quickly when media attention grew intense and Congressman Blake Farenthold (R-Texas) intervened on Doughty’s behalf.