Oath of Allegiance (United States)

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U.S. military personnel state the Oath of Allegiance aboard the USS Midway museum in November 2010.
15 people from ten countries take the United States Oath of Allegiance on World Refugee Day in Boise, Idaho in June 2015.
U.S. military personnel take the oath of allegiance at Baghdad's al-Faw Palace in April 2008.

The United States Oath of Allegiance, officially referred to as the "Oath of Allegiance," 8 C.F.R. Part 337 (2008), is an oath that must be taken by all immigrants who wish to become United States citizens.

The Oath of Allegiance may be administered by USCIS officials; by immigration judges; and by eligible courts.[1][a]

Text[edit]

The current oath is as follows:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.[2]

Exemptions[edit]

8 C.F.R. 337.1 provides that the phrase "so help me God" is optional and that the words ‘on oath’ can be substituted with ‘and solemnly affirm’.

8 U.S.C. § 1448 provides that if the prospective citizen is unable or unwilling to promise to bear arms or perform noncombatant military service because of "religious training and belief", they may request to leave out those clauses. The law specifies:

The term “religious training and belief” as used in this section shall mean an individual’s belief in a relation to a Supreme Being involving duties superior to those arising from any human relation, but does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views or a merely personal moral code.[3]

Qualifying for this exemption may require supporting documentation from the applicant's religious organization.[4] The applicant is not required to belong to a specific religious group, but must have "a sincere and meaningful belief that has a place in the applicant’s life that is equivalent to that of a religious belief".[5]

History[edit]

During the Revolutionary War, oaths of allegiance were administered to officers of the Continental Army, pursuant to a Congressional resolution of February 3, 1778.[6] An example appears below.

I James Glentworth, Lieut, of 6th Pennya. Reg. do acknowledge

the UNITED STATES of AMERICA to be Free, Independent and Sovereign States, and declare that the people thereof owe no allegiance or obedience to George the Third, King of Great Britain; and I renounce, refuse and abjure any allegiance or obedience to him ; and I do Swear that I will, to the utmost of my power, support, maintain and defend the said United States against the said King George the Third, his heirs and successors, and his or their abettors, assistants and adherents, and will serve the said United States in the office of Lieutenant which I now hold, with fidelity, according to the best of my skill and understanding.

JAMES GLENTWORTH.

Sworn at the Valley Forge Camp this 11th day of May, 1778, before me

STIRLING, M. G.[7]

The Oath of Allegiance for prospective citizens originated with the Naturalization Act of 1790, which required applicants to take an oath or affirmation "to support the constitution of the United States", but did not provide a text. The Naturalization Act of 1795 added renunciation of the new citizen's former sovereign to the oath. The Naturalization Act of 1906 added the section of the oath requiring new citizens to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; and bear true faith and allegiance to the same.

The Oath acquired a standard text in 1929.[2] Prior to then, spoken oaths were adapted from naturalization law, and each court could develop its own procedures for administering the oath.

The Internal Security Act of 1950 added the text about bearing arms and performing noncombatant service in the armed forces of the United States. The section about performing work of national importance under civilian direction was added by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.

Changing the oath[edit]

The current exact text of the Oath of Citizenship is established only in the form of an administrative regulation promulgated by the executive branch. Under the Administrative Procedure Act, CIS could theoretically change the text of the oath at any time, so long as the new text reasonably meets the "five principles" mandated by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1953. These principles are:

  • allegiance to the United States Constitution,
  • renunciation of allegiance to any foreign country to which the immigrant has had previous allegiances
  • defense of the Constitution against enemies "foreign and domestic"
  • promise to serve in the United States Armed Forces when required by law (either combat or non-combat)
  • promise to perform civilian duties of "national importance" when required by law

There has been some controversy about the wording of the oath, parts of which are based on the British Oath of Supremacy[citation needed] which was written in the 16th Century. As a result, some[who?] have suggested much of the language is antiquated and confusing. In the fall of 2003, CIS planned to change the oath of citizenship in time for Citizenship Day (September 17).[8] The proposed oath was as follows:

Solemnly, freely, and without mental reservation, I hereby renounce under oath all allegiance to any foreign state. My fidelity and allegiance from this day forward is to the United States of America. I pledge to support, honor, and be loyal to the United States, its Constitution, and its laws. Where and if lawfully required, I further commit myself to defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, either by military, noncombatant, or civilian service. This I do solemnly swear, so help me God.[9]

The introduction of the new oath was scrapped by the U.S. House of Representatives Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Border Security, and Claims on April 1, 2004.[10]

Incidents and controversies[edit]

In United States v. Schwimmer (1929), the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the denial of citizenship to an applicant who declared not to be willing to "take up arms personally" in defense of the United States. The applicant, Hungarian-born female suffragist Rosika Schwimmer, had written that she was an "uncompromising pacifist" with "no sense of nationalism, only a cosmic consciousness of belonging to the human family". The Court found that persons holding such views were "liable to be incapable of the attachment for and devotion to the principles of our Constitution" that are required for naturalization.[11]

English writer Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World, applied for U.S. citizenship in 1953 after having lived in the United States for fourteen years. When asked if he would bear arms and perform noncombatant military service as required by the Oath, Huxley answered in the negative and was summoned before a judge. Huxley explained that his objection was based on philosophical convictions about the evil of war rather than religious beliefs. The judge adjourned proceedings and postponed a decision on Huxley's application in order to report to Washington. Huxley never received U.S. citizenship.[12]

In the 1968 case In re Weitzman, a U.S. district court considered the naturalization petition of Brenda Weitzman, a 25-year-old mother of two children and religious non-believer who had refused to take the part of the Oath requiring her to serve in the Armed Forces. She expressed a total "objection to warfare and the bearing of arms", being "repulsed by no particular war, but by all killing." The court, finding that her stance was "based on a personal moral code and not on religious training and belief" and that she did not recognize anything "tantamount to a God or a Supreme Being", denied her petition.[13]

The precedent relied upon was United States v. Seeger. However the Supreme Court, in their 1970 ruling on Welsh v. United States,[14] having noted the case factually similar and controlled by United States v. Seeger, determined in respect to the provision in the Universal Military Training and Service Act that exempts from military service persons who by reason of "religious training and belief" are conscientiously opposed to war, that the Act:

contravenes the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by exempting those whose conscientious objection claims are founded on a theistic belief, while not exempting those whose claims are based on a secular belief. To comport with that clause, an exemption must be "neutral" and include those whose belief emanates from a purely moral, ethical, or philosophical source.

— MR. JUSTICE HARLAN

This judgement was used in 2013 to reverse a denial of citizenship to Margaret Doughty, a 65 year old British atheist who had lived in the US for 30 years, unless she could show proof of membership in a church with pacifist beliefs to support her claim that she was a conscientious objector entitled to omit the Oath's clause about bearing arms.[15] The USCIS retracted their demand after receiving a letter from an atheist group that objected based on Welsh vs. United States.[16][14]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Section 310(b)(1)(A) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act provides that "an eligible court ... shall have authority to administer such oath of allegiance to persons residing within the jurisdiction of the court." Section 310(b)(5) defines "eligible court" for this purposes as "a district court of the United States in any State" or "any court of record in any State having a seal, a clerk, and jurisdiction in actions in law or equity, or law and equity, in which the amount in controversy is unlimited."

References[edit]

  1. ^ USCIS Policy Manual, Vol. 12 (Citizenship & Naturalization), Part J (Oath of Allegiance), Chapter 2 (The Oath of Allegiance).
  2. ^ a b Oath of Allegiance for Naturalized Citizens, Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, retrieved 2010-06-30 
  3. ^ 8 U.S.C. § 1448
  4. ^ Chapter 5, A Guide to Naturalization.
  5. ^ USCIS Policy Manual, 12 USCIS-PM J.3
  6. ^ Waldenmaier, Nellie (1944). Some of the Earliest Oaths of Allegiance to the United States of America. Lancaster Press. 
  7. ^ Glentworth, James (1877). "The Oath Taken by the Officers at Valley Forge". The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 1 (2): 174. Retrieved 3 May 2016. 
  8. ^ US Citizenship and Immigration Services Fact Sheet
  9. ^ John J. Miller (September 15, 2003), Oath on Ice, National Review Online, retrieved 2008-11-07 
  10. ^ Preserve Oath of Citizenship, the American Legion, April 1, 2004 
  11. ^ United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644 (1929).
  12. ^ Bedford, Sybille (2002). Aldous Huxley: A Biography. Ivan R Dee. ISBN 978-1-56663-454-0. , p. 531-535, 545-546.
  13. ^ In re Weitzman
  14. ^ a b "Welsh v. United States". law.cornell.edu. Cornell University Law School. June 15, 1970. Retrieved September 1, 2016. 
  15. ^ "Atheist seeking US citizenship told to join church or be denied". 
  16. ^ "Margaret Doughty Approved For Citizenship As USCIS Backs Down In Flap Over Atheist Opposition To War".