Dear Right-Wing Media: Stop Panicking, New Citizens Could Always Claim Conscientious Objector Status

saluteTo see the recent spate of articles, you’d think President Obama himself had just waved his hand and told all green card holders who are becoming naturalized U.S. citizens that they could skip that pesky part of the Oath of Allegiance where they promise to bear arms on behalf of the United States. Here are some of the recent headlines:

One has to wonder whether the pundits who write this nonsense get some sort of satisfaction from stirring up panic, because what they’re saying is simply not true. And I don’t mean “not true” in the sense that the issue is more nuanced than it first appears, or that with a little sympathy toward immigrants you’d see it another way, I mean NOT TRUE. At all.

I’ll try to keep this simple. Successful applicants for U.S. citizenship must take an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. That oath includes a statement that they’ll willingly bear arms on behalf of the U.S. if asked. For as many years as I’ve been practicing law, they’ve been allowed to request an exemption from the “bear arms” portion of the oath based on religious, ethical, or moral principles.

Notice I said request — USCIS could always deny it if the agency didn’t believe that the person really held said beliefs.

And the change? There really isn’t any. USCIS simply clarified, in a Policy Alert, that no, you don’t need to be a member of a particular religion to make this request, and no, you don’t have to prove said membership. No big deal — unless you’re someone who was worried that you’d be blocked from U.S. citizenship because your honest beliefs forbid you from taking up arms against your fellow man. In that case, you might be relieved to know that USCIS will give your request to take a modified oath serious consideration, though it might still deny it. (And you should also know that you cannot opt out of the portion of the oath in which you promise to perform noncombatant services on behalf of the U.S. if asked.)

I have no illusions that this humble blog will stop the tide of panic. Maybe Snopes will have better luck — the misunderstandings are so over the top that even this myth-debunking website felt the need to weigh in!

One last observation: The first article linked to above ended with the following statement: “It should be noted the Islamic terrorist Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, who killed four Marines and a Navy sailor in Chattanooga last week, was a naturalized citizen.”

It should be noted why, exactly? Is that little factoid supposed to make us more outraged that some new citizens won’t be joining our military and handed deadly weapons? With that level of suspicion about naturalized citizens, I would think saying yes to the ones who want to stay home and sit out any war would be a fine option.