Why some naturalized US citizens swear a different Oath of Allegiance

The White House clarified which naturalization candidates are exempt from vowing to serve in the US military if called.

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File
New citizens wave American flags during a US Citizenship and Immigration Services naturalization ceremony on the campus of Florida International University in Miami July 6, 2015. Updates to eligibility for a modified Oath of Allegiance clarify who can opt out of military service.

The White House enacted new eligibility guidelines Tuesday for immigrants who wish to naturalize, but who object to military service.

The clarifications apply to the Oath of Allegiance, which immigrants must take to become naturalized citizens and which includes clauses about being willing to complete military service if called to do so.

Those who object on religious or moral grounds may be exempt from reciting these clauses if they meet the eligibility standards specified in the updated guidelines. The updates come during an effort to naturalize more immigrants on the part of President Barack Obama’s administration.

The Oath of Allegiance asks citizens-to-be to promise to “bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law” and to “perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law.” Just as provisions exist for US-born citizens who qualify as “conscientious objectors” to exempt themselves from military service, similar allowances are made for naturalized citizens.

The guidelines make three stipulations: candidates for citizenship can request exemption “based on religious training and belief, or conscientious objection arising from a deeply held moral or ethical code,” but are “not required to belong to a specific church or religion, follow a particular theology or belief, or to have had religious training in order to qualify.” If someone does belong to a religion, evidence of affiliation may be submitted.

In April, the Task Force on New Americans submitted a plan to Obama that identified ways to weave naturalized Americans into their communities, such as encouraging new Americans to take part in volunteer work.

Cecilia Muñoz, director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, said in an April 14 press call that the US hopes to naturalize as many as possible of the more than 41 million foreign-born residents in the United States.

“What we’re really talking about are the economics, the linguistics, the civic integration of a large proportion of the population, who are a significant portion of our workforce,” she said. “There are clear benefits and responsibilities associated with citizenship and ... we’re hopeful that immigrants will take every step in the integration process and become Americans.”

According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the clauses in the Oath of Allegiance referring to military service were added as part of the 1950 Immigration Act, several years after the Supreme Court decided that the promise to bear arms was not implied in the overall promise to “support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Modifications also exist for those whose religions proscribe taking oaths, as well as for the non-religious: instead of saying “I hereby declare, on oath,” naturalization candidates can choose to say “I solemnly affirm,” and the last phrase of the speech, “so help me God,” can be omitted upon request.

Every year, the White House conducts special naturalization ceremonies on and around the fourth of July. This past year, more than 4,000 people were naturalized between July 1 and July 4.

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