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Last month, non-religious Californian Adriana Ramirez, a legal immigrant, applied for U.S. citizenship… but she was rejected after officials read her response to the question about whether she would bear arms for our country (in the event of a war):

As a woman in my mid-30’s, I understand that it is unlikely that I will ever be asked to take up arms to defend this country. I could have easily checked ‘yes’, sealed the envelope, and sent it out. But checking ‘yes’ on Q36-38 would be a betrayal of everything I have stood for from a very early age. I have strong and sincere moral convictions against arms and killing people.

I co-founded a journal focusing on non-violence, and have worked ever since to build the foundations of peace. If I were to sign the oath as it is, I would be withholding important information about who I am, only for the benefits of citizenship… Therefore, I prefer to truthfully present my moral objection to this portion of the oath… — as [well] as to the phrase ‘so help me God’… since I don’t hold such religious beliefs — while solemnly affirming my commitment to this country and the enduring principles that it was founded upon, including justice, equality, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion.

My moral conviction towards peace and against violence, which contradicts these questions in the oath for citizenship, has been mirrored by many great thinkers and leaders throughout history, from Martin Luther King, to Einstein, to Gandhi and many others. Without their strong convictions and unwavering position on them, the world today would be a very different place. And I think that not compromising my convictions of non-combatancy is equally important. The renowned spiritual teacher and author Jiddu Krishnamurti once wrote: “To bring about peace in the world, to stop all wards, there must be a revolution in the individual, in you and me…To put an end to sorry, to hunger, to war, there must be a psychological revolution and few of us are willing to face that… Peace will come only when you yourself are peaceful.”

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.

It was a “conscientious objection” claim, but the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wrote in their rejection letter that such an objection had to be based in religious beliefs:

… 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.

The American Humanist Association’s Appignani Humanist Legal Center filed a complaint with the USCIS — just as they had done with Margaret Doughty last summer — and there’s finally some good news to report: Ramirez will soon become an official citizen!

Ramirez received a letter from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services officials stating that her application has been accepted and providing information on attending a naturalization ceremony.
“We’re pleased that officials at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services corrected this mistake, but we hope this won’t happen again in the future,” said Monica Miller, attorney for the Appignani Humanist Legal Center. “People cannot be denied citizenship simply because their moral values are secular.”

It shouldn’t have happened the first time. It shouldn’t have happened this time. It shouldn’t happen again in the future. Secular ethics should never be a barrier to U.S. citizenship and the office handling these issues needs to fix its policies to prevent this mistake from repeating itself.
(Image via Shutterstock)

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Hemant Mehta is the founder of, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.