French Atheist Calls US Oath of Allegiance Unconstitutional

BOSTON (CN) – A French atheist who has been brushing up on the U.S. Constitution as part of her preparations to become a U.S. citizen claims in a federal complaint that the phrase “so help me God” is standing in the way of her taking the oath of naturalization.

Represented by two solo practitioners, Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo of Scituate, Massachusetts, says there is nothing but the unconstitutional oath standing in the way of her becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Federal law allows conscious objectors to omit the phrase “so help me God” when taking the oath of naturalization, but Perrier-Bilbo says that accommodation is insufficient.

“Plaintiff is unwilling to start her new life as an American citizen in some second-class status solely because she chooses to follow her religious precepts,” the Nov. 2 complaint. “Under the principles of equal protection, she demands the right to experience the elation, the pride, the sense of camaraderie, and the sense of belonging, which comes from joining her fellow new citizens as an equal participant in the naturalization oath ceremony.”

While she takes all oaths seriously, Perrier-Bilbo says the one she will take to become a U.S. citizen is especially momentous.

“Because she will be swearing ‘to support the Constitution of the United States,’ and ‘to support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States,’ she cannot in good conscience participate in a ceremony that violates that constitution and those laws.”

Much of the complaint is dedicated to what the heading calls a “brief history of American religious freedom,” but Perrier-Bilbo also shares some of her background, noting that she was born in Paris, France, on Sept. 17, 1969 – “which the people of the United States of America celebrate as Constitution Day.”

She moved to Scituate in August 2000, became a permanent U.S. resident in two years later and got her green card on Dec. 29, 2004.

After U.S. Customs and Immigration granted her first application for naturalization, she was scheduled to participate in the public oath ceremony on March 4, 2009.

She resorted to filing suit after years of diligent work to address her concerns regarding the phrase “so help me God.”

Perrier-Bilbo wants the phrase stricken from future naturalization ceremonies and reimbursement of her fees applying for naturalization. While attorney Nedow is in Nice, California, co-counsel Malone is in Cohasset, Massachusetts.

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