Validating a Moral Belief

Morality is the most subjective concept in existence. Bar none. It epitomizes “Different Strokes,” both the folksy saying and the theme song (what might be right for you, may not be right for some) and it is something I believe every human, religious or otherwise, possesses a sense of or defines in some way. That subjective morality influences and sometimes even forces an individual’s actions, and shapes how he or she perceives the world and how the world perceives him or her.

Cut to this woman Margaret Doughty of Texas:

According to this article from the Huffington Post, the 64-year-old Doughty has been a permanent U.S. Resident for over 30 years with no problems, and she has recently applied to gain citizenship. Great! I’m glad she made that choice to be a citizen of a place that has been her home for three decades. She’s also an Atheist. That’s also fine, as the country whose citizenship she’s applying for protects an individual’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof.)

However, Doughty’s application was denied. This rejection comes not initially from a religious base, but the devil is in the details. She was denied because she wanted to be listed as a conscientious objector, a person who refuses to take up arms, even to defend one’s country, on moral or religious grounds. Though this refusal may have been a bigger issue in the past, today the United States would have to be in military dire straits to enlist a 64-year-old regardless of gender, much less someone whose personal moral code compels them to refuse service.

People in the U.S. are allowed to do this, however it is only allowed if the religious organization they are affiliated with has a position of pacifism. Doughty being an atheist is not affiliated with any religious organization. According to this article by, when Doughty applied to be a conscientious objector,  the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Sevices (USCIS) told her

“Please 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.”

I find it sad and appalling that our government, which neither bans nor officially recognizes any religion, requires a membership of a church (the excerpt quoted specifically said church instead of a vaguer “religious organization”) to moral refuse military service. What is even sadder is that from what I can gather, the USCIS is legally in the right, and can lawfully deny this. This policy is not in the spirit of the First Amendment. Hopefully because of the attention surrounding this case this misconstruction can be rectified.

As I close these thoughts, I’ll leave you with Doughty’s own words on the question of taking up arms for one’s country, as taken from this letter from the American Humanist Legal Center to the USCIS:

I am sure the law would never require a 64 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 in 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 a duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms . . . my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess 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 noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.


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