Reference to God in US Citizenship Oath Upheld

BOSTON (CN) – A French atheist living in Massachusetts lost her court battle Friday to strike the phrase “so help me God” from the U.S. citizenship oath.

Granting the government summary judgment, U.S. District Judge William Young found that nothing about how the oath is administered, or how it burdens challenger Olga Paul Perrier-Bilbo, amounts to a constitutional violation.

Perrier-Bilbo brought the case at issue last year in Boston, claiming that inclusion of “so help me God” in America’s citizenship oath was standing in the way of her participate in naturalization ceremony.

Though U.S. Customs and Immigration Services offered Perrier-Bilbo two alternatives: to either omit the nonsecular phrase in a private ceremony, or to join other new citizens in saying the full oath, but opting to stay silent as everyone else recites the words “so help me God.”

“Perrier-Bilbo will have none of it,” Judge Young wrote. “Evidently, she seeks a ceremony where neither the official administering the oath nor the new citizens will conclude by uttering the phrase ‘so help me God.’”

Perrier-Bilbo was first granted the right to take the citizenship oath in 2009, but she said she had to pay a second time to reapply for citizenship because the Customs office was unwilling to reach an agreement with her over the oath before her application lapsed.

Young concluded Friday that Perrier-Bilbo has nno case.

“As neither remaining silent during the phrase ‘so help me God’ nor attending a private ceremony would do more than merely inconvenience Perrier-Bilbo, she has not shown that the government’s policy substantially burdens her in violation of the RFRA,” the 23-page decision states, using an abbreviation for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Perrier-Bilbo 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.

Neither of Perrier-Bilbo’s attorneys responded to an emailed request for comment.

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