This week we take up the case of one Margaret Doughty. Margaret is a native of Great Britain, but has been a — legal — permanent resident of United States for 30 years. She currently resides in Palacios, Texas. By all accounts she is a kind, giving woman who works tirelessly to aid others.
Margaret, 65, has worked all of her adult life to combat illiteracy, which she sees as a constraint on human development, and inhibiting of humankind’s potential. To this end, she founded, some years ago, Literary Powerline, which is a nonprofit organization that actively promotes literacy across the nation and the world.
On the Literacy Powerline website, Margret is quoted thusly: “100 percent literacy through 100 percent community engagement. That phrase has guided my life since 1990.” Queen Elizabeth II recognized her work in an official 2000 proclamation.
Wow. Based solely on what I’ve learned about Margaret over the past few days she sounds like a candidate for the Presidential Medal of Freedom (The highest civilian honor).
Instead, we are in the process of denying her status as a naturalized citizen. Not because she has been deemed undesirable, mind you. On the contrary, she is highly regarded.
But Margaret has a problem. And it’s one that has put her at loggerheads with Immigration and Naturalization. You see, Margaret is a pacifist.
Oddly enough, it is not pacifism per se that is the problem. It’s her atheism.
The naturalization application has a clause which requires applicants to state that they will bear arms in defense of the country, if required. There is an exemption to this oath based on conscientious objector status. So far so good.
But the Houston, Texas office of USCIS (Immigration and Naturalization) is demanding that Margaret’s conscientious objector status be based on religious beliefs. They informed her that she had until Friday, June 21, to prove that she was a “member in good standing of a pacifist religious order” or be denied citizenship. They very helpfully added that a note on “official church stationary” would serve as documentation.
Margaret’s reply is far more eloquent than anything I might conjure:
“I am sure the law would never require a 65-year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie.
I must be honest. The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or the bearing of arms. I deeply and sincerely believe that it is not moral or ethical to take another person’s life, and my lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs impose on me the duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by bearing arms ... my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who hold traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God. ... I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform non-combatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States of America if and when required by law to do so.”
Conscientious objector status is a bumpy but time-honored tradition in this country.
The Society of Friends (more commonly known as Quakers) are but one example of a group that does not bear arms because of their pacifistic beliefs. The path is not always an easy one, however.
Popular film star Lew Ayers, for instance, went from cinematic hero (he essayed the part of “Dr. Kildare” in an extremely popular series of films of the 30s and early 40s) to pariah during the early days of World War II because of his conscientious objector status. He served admirably as a non-combat medic, and resumed his award-winning career afterward.
Muhammad Ali famously fought conscription based on his declared conscientious objector status all the way to the Supreme Court ... and won.
So it is not Margaret Doughty’s conscientious objector status that is the impediment to her becoming a naturalized citizen, but her refusal to shroud it in traditional religious trappings.
Her choice, as presented to her by USCIS is; join a church or remain an “other.”
This whole brouhaha is absurd. As she is not yet a citizen, Margaret is not protected by the U.S. Constitution. No matter. Requiring a person to adopt a religion in order to become a citizen is a patently unconstitutional act, and would be declared so by any federal court (including the U.S. Supreme Court) in the land.
USCIS has determined that Ms. Doughty has met every criteria for citizenship … except church affiliation. That means she has, in fact, met them all.
Administer her the oath, gentlemen.
Bud Wright is a published author who lives in Pasquotank County.