Atheist Immigrant Wins Citizenship Despite Anti-War Beliefs

PHOTO: Margaret Doughty, seen here in this undated photo from Literacy Powerline where she is employed as an expert, has had trouble gaining US Citizenship as she is not a member of a church.

An atheist Englishwoman who has been living in Houston as a permanent U.S. resident for more than 30 years nearly lost her shot at citizenship because of her pacifist beliefs and lack of religion, but the "power of the people and the power of the press" helped her clear a key hurdle to U.S. naturalization.

Margaret Doughty, 64, said her decision to pursue citizenship came after years of working as a literacy advocate and fighting for the disenfranchised.

"It just seemed, after living here after all of this time and enjoying the benefits and the challenges of living here, it was time," Margaret Doughty, 64, told

"I've worked very hard, and I really work on initiatives that are about social justice and anti-poverty causes. It seemed, morally, that I shouldn't be an outsider working in this country, but an insider working inside."

Born in the small town of Tatsfield in Kent, England, the retired literacy advocate spent time volunteering around the world in her young adulthood, and ultimately settled with her family in Houston in 1980, she said.

She and her best friend, who was born in South Africa, decided recently to take the final step and become naturalized U.S. citizens.

They headed to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office in Houston and filled out the appropriate forms and ticked the appropriate boxes. They had to read a simple sentence in English to prove their language skills.

But the seemingly bureaucratic process hit a snag as she and an officer walked through her forms and reached the section about Doughty's willingness to take up arms in defense of the United States. Her friend complied and was sent through. It was there that Doughty, a lifelong pacifist, said no.

"When she got to the piece about bearing arms, the officer said, 'This is going to be a problem,'" Doughty recalled. "She said, 'You know, we're never going to ask you to fight. It's OK, you're an old woman,' almost like this is irrelevant. She suggested, and encouraged me to check the other box."

Doughty had even brought a typed statement on the matter, which read: "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."

When asked whether she was objecting on religious grounds, Doughty said she does not: She's objecting on moral and ethical grounds.

"She said you aren't allowed to do that," Doughty recalled of the officer's comments. "That was the end of the interview."

Sent away and told a supervisor would intervene, Doughty waited patiently. Soon she received a call, and said she was told that "if there's anything you want to change, you can come back in."

She eventually returned to the office and, for a third time, was encouraged by the officer to change her statement.

"She swore me in, and then she encouraged me," she told "I thought, 'You've just asked me not to lie. If I lied now and changed it, why would you want me as a citizen, if I had that moral code?' She said, 'If you change your mind now, I'll sign this, and you can go to your swearing-in ceremony. I said, 'I can't do that.'"

The Houston Citizenship and Immigration Services office then responded to Doughty's conscientious objector claim by asking her to "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."

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