Obama Changes Oath of Allegiance for New Americans-Mostly Fiction!
Summary of eRumor:
President Obama has changed the Oath of Allegiance, and new naturalized citizens no longer have to pledge that they’ll take up arms to defend the U.S.
President Obama hasn’t changed the Oath of Allegiance.
But there has been proposed guidance that would clarify who’s allowed to take an alternate oath under current law.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has long allowed exceptions and accommodations for naturalized citizens who take the Oath of Allegiance.
In July 2015, USCIS issued new guidance that laid out a three-part test to determine who qualifies for exceptions based on “religious training and belief, or for other reasons of good conscience.”
That led to viral reports that President Obama had changed the Oath of Allegiance so naturalized citizens no longer have to pledge to take up arms to defend the U.S. But in truth, current law already provides that exemption.
New naturalized citizens have been taking the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America since the country was founded. Before 1906, however, there wasn’t a specific text for the oath, and the only guidance was that the applicant:
“…shall…declare, on oath…that he will support the Constitution of the United States, and that he absolutely and entirely renounces and abjures all allegiance and fidelity to every foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty; and, particularly, by name, to the prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of which he was before a citizen or subject; which proceedings shall be recorded by the clerk of the court.”
The Naturalization Act of 1906 was the first step toward changing that. It standardized the naturalization process, required that applicants had “some knowledge of the English language” and established the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization to oversee immigration.
After World War I and World War II, immigration and naturalization were viewed as national security issues. Previous naturalization laws were consolidated under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to reflect that. The University of Washington-Bothell summarizes the law:
Otherwise known as the McCarran-Walter Act, the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was meant to exclude certain immigrants from immigrating to America, post World War II and in the early Cold War. The McCarran-Walter Act moved away from excluding immigrants based simply upon country of origin. Instead it focused upon denying immigrants who were unlawful, immoral, diseased in any way, politically radical etc. and accepting those who were willing and able to assimilate into the US economic, social, and political structures, which restructured how immigration law was handled. Furthermore, the most notable exclusions were anyone even remotely associated with communism which in the early days of the Cold War was seen as a serious threat to US democracy. The main objective of this was to block any spread of communism from outside post WWII countries, as well as deny any enemies of the US during WWII such as Japan and favor “good Asian” countries such as China.
The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 set a number of guidelines for the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America, but it didn’t spell out the oath’s text. Key points of the guidance include:
-Support the Constitution;
-Renounce and abjure absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which the applicant was before a subject or citizen;
-Support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
-Bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law;
-Perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; or
-Perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.
Today, the text of the Oath of Allegiance can be found in federal codes:
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.
These federal codes also outline the alternate version that has been incorrectly attributed to Obama:
(b) Alteration of form of oath; affirmation in lieu of oath. In those cases in which a petitioner or applicant for naturalization is exempt from taking the oath prescribed in paragraph (a) of this section in its entirety, the inapplicable clauses shall be deleted and the oath shall be taken in such altered form. When a petitioner or applicant for naturalization, by reason of religious training and belief (or individual interpretation thereof), or for other reasons of good conscience, cannot take the oath presc ribed in paragraph (a) of this section with the words “on oath” and “so help me God” included, the words “and solemnly affirm” shall be substituted for the words “on oath,” the words “so help me God” shall be deleted, and the oath shall be taken in such modified form. Any reference to “oath of allegiance” in this chapter is understood to mean equally “affirmation of allegiance” as described in this paragraph.
So, President Obama has not changed the Oath of Allegiance for new Americans. Naturalized citizens were already able under law to omit portions of the oath based on “religious training and belief, or for other reasons of good conscience.”
USCIS did, however, issue new guidance that “clarifies the eligibility requirements for modifications” of the oath under current law with a three-part test:
In order for an applicant to qualify for a modification based on his or her “religious training and belief,” the applicant must satisfy a three-part test. An applicant must establish that:
-He or she is opposed to bearing arms in the armed forces or opposed to any type of Service in the armed forces.
-The objection is grounded in his or her religious principles, to include other belief systems similar to traditional religion or a deeply held moral or ethical code; and
-His or her beliefs are sincere, meaningful, and deeply held.
The applicant is not eligible for a modified oath when he or she is opposed to a specific war. Religious training or belief does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views. An applicant whose objection to war is based upon opinions or beliefs about public policy and the practicality or desirability of combat, or whose beliefs are not deeply held, does not qualify for the modification of the oath.
Applicant is Not Required to Belong to a Church or Religion
In addition, qualification for the exemption is not dependent upon membership in a particular religious group, nor does membership in a specific religious group provide an automatic modification to the oath. The applicant is not required to:
-Belong to a specific church or religious denomination;
-Follow a particular theology or belief; or
-Have religious training.
However, the applicant 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. Because of this belief, for example, the applicant’s conscience may not rest or be at peace if allowed to become an instrument of war.
So, in conclusion, Obama hasn’t changed the Oath of Allegiance. Immigration Services has issued guidance to clarify who is eligible to take an alternate version that was already on the books.
USCIS is accepting public comment on these proposed changes through August 4, 2015. Click here for information on how to provide feedback.