Freedom of religion includes freedom to practice no religion at all. It says so right in the study materials for the US naturalization civics test.
Exercising freedom of religion includes — among other things — being allowed to take an alternate form of oath of of allegiance to the USA; in the alternate form, the applicant does not say “so help me God”. This freedom is codified in the US federal law.
However, taking the alternate oath requires checking one of the scary checkboxes on the application for naturalization. You know, where it says “If you answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, attach your written explanation why your answer was ‘Yes’ and any additional information or documentation that helps explain your answer”, which is the same procedure you would follow if you were a drug lord. (A drug lord who wanted to avoid perjury.)
I consulted with an immigration attorney on this matter and was told — in no uncertain terms — that their experience suggests rocking this particular boat would not be in my best interest. And that if I decide to proceed with my boat-rocking, they would be happy to assist me in exchange for some money.
Reciting the regular oath — for all of its obvious pragmatic value — seemed ethically dubious. Besides, most of the time, I have enough privilege to get what I want without lying about who I am. I decided to take the high road, while my lawyer probably inwardly sighed.
Using US dollar bills — which say “In God we trust” — to pay a lawyer to opt me out of saying “so help me God” would have been deliciously ironic. Is the God that we trust in the same God that I don’t want to be so-helping me? Would doing this create a paradox in which God, in Star Trek style, short-circuits?
We will never know, because I also decided that I am going to take the high road on the cheap. (This sounds like a total recipe for failure.) I thanked my lawyer for his services, and let him know that if I get turned down for a citizenship, he’ll be hearing from me (and making a lot of money on it).
The supporting letter that I wrote said:
As provided by the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 8, Part 337, Section 1(b), and for reasons of good conscience, I request the modified form of Oath of Allegiance, wherein the words “solemnly affirm” are substituted for the words “on oath”, and the words “so help me God” are not recited.
According to the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part J, Chapter 3, Section B, no further documentary evidence or testimony is required to support this request.
I typed that into Pages on my Mac, and didn’t use the default font, so they had to take me seriously. On my form N-400, I checked the scary checkbox, and attached the letter.
I was interviewed at the Boston office in late summer of 2013. When asked about the oath, I informed the interviewer I did not practice religion, and was requesting the alternate oath specified in the federal regulations. The interview process went smoothly; my petition was granted, even though I forgot when the US constitution was written.
They just let anyone into the country these days, don’t they? Back in my day, you had to prove your mettle before they’d let you have a passport.
About a month later, I was sworn in as a US citizen, without ever saying “God”.
If you, too, are applying for a US citizenship, and want to opt out of the religious language in the oath, feel free to use my letter. (Best change the name though.) And, uh, godspeed.