Margaret Doughty has been a permanent US resident for more than 30 years. She is also an atheist. Though that last point should be incidental, it is apparently playing the central role in whether or not she'll be allowed to stay in this country that has become her home.
Doughty says that she has been told by immigration authorities that she has until Friday to officially join a church (one that forbids violence) or her naturalized citizenship application will be rejected.
According to the letter she received, the snag with her citizenship application has to do with her stance on the Second Amendment. She objected to the pledge to bear arms in defense of the nation because she morally opposes war.
The letter sent to Doughty said that the statement qualified her as a conscientious objector due to religious beliefs, but she doesn't have religious beliefs, so uh-oh.
Anyway, they said that she needed to document that she was "a member in good standing" of a nonviolent religious organization. A note "on official church stationary" would be enough, they said.
The Freedom From Religion Foundation intervened on Doughty's behalf, sending a letter branding the government's request "illegal and unconstitutional."
"It is shocking that USCIS officers would not be aware that a nonreligious yet deeply held belief would be sufficient to attain this exemption," one of the foundation's staff attorneys wrote.
"This is a longstanding part of our law and every USCIS officer should receive training on this exemption ... Either the officers in Houston are inept, or they are deliberately discriminating against nonreligious applicants for naturalization."
The American Humanist Association has also threatened litigation.
The Daily Kos has started a petition supporting Doughty's request for citizenship, and she has received numerous supportive messages from the religious and non-religious alike:
“Over the past two days not only good friends but people I don’t even know have sent notes of support,” she wrote on her Facebook.
“They are people with a wide range of beliefs, beliefs that I respect -- Christians, Moslems, Jews, Atheists, Agnostics and others. I think that is part of what has always appealed to me about America -– that people of all beliefs can live together accepting and respecting each other and working together for the common good.”
You'd think the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster could just say she volunteers in the soup kitchen or something.
What do you think of Doughty's story? Should she be in a position where she could lose her US citizenship for refusing to join a church? Sound off!
[Image via: Konstantin L / Shutterstock]