16 June 2013

Are atheist immigrants unwelcome in the USA?

Chris Johnson's 64-year old stepmother applied for her US citizenship after 30 years of residency, but refused to "take up arms in defense of the United States" on moral grounds.  It turns out she's an atheist, so she could not object conscientiously on religious grounds.  Yet those are the only grounds that the pencil-pushers in the US government would allow.  (Details here.)  The FFRF has weighed in on the matter, and makes a compelling case for allowing her application.

I think some comments are in order.

First, of all - Bravo! to the woman who stood up for what is right.  The US would clearly be better off with more citizens like her, than with people like Rick Perry, Charles Manson, and Paris Hilton (i.e., useless wastes of life).

Next, there are some perfectly reasonable people about who have argued that she should have just checked the box, no matter what she believed.  I can respect that perspective, but I also worry about it.  I cannot speak to the woman's actual motivation for refusing to "check the box," but personally, I find it troubling.  If one really respects the nation one tries to join and the institutions of that nation - which are in many ways its most direct manifestations - then one really needs to answer truthfully. Getting citizenship is A Big Dealtm and being less than honest can place one on a slippery slope.  If one finds it possible to essentially lie on one's citizenship application, then how much easier will one find it to lie on other matters?  Multiply this effect across all immigrants to a nation, and one could see, over time, how that nation's citizenry could become polluted with liars.

Others have suggested that the real problem is the anachronistic phrasing of the requirements. Must one really "take up arms" in the sense of using weapons, or is it a matter of defending one's nation, adopted or otherwise, to the best of one's abilities?  I would like to think that the former is the more enlightened interpretation.  However, so long as statements require interpretation, there is the chance of misinterpretation, which would likely create more problems than it could possibly solve.  So perhaps it's time that Americans stopped dwelling on the actual words used and focused more on the ideas behind them.  Of course, that would require a kind of reflective intelligence and rationality that seems sorely lacking in some quarters (...cough - GOP - cough...).

Finally, it seems to me that there's a question of context.  What do Americans really aspire to these days?  Surely, the principles remain, but their implementation in practice and in law must adapt to modern times.  It strikes me that one of the reasons that so much manufacturing has moved to Asia that used to be done in the US is partly a function of the expectations of Americans.  Cannot they see that some of the problems they now face are obviously a result of actions that they themselves took, regardless of intention?  Cannot they learn from their mistakes?

In closing, I would suggest to Mr. Johnson's stepmother that, if things don't work out in the US, she should consider Canada.  We're much more flexible here. :-)

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