A French atheist woman seeking U.S. citizenship has filed a lawsuit to force the removal of the phrase “so help me God” from the citizenship oath, arguing that it violates the First Amendment’s establishment clause that supposedly separates government from all religious expression.
Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and an avowed atheist who has been in the United States since 2000, claimed that the oath represents a violation of her secularist convictions and makes it impossible for her to comfortably transition to citizenship. “By its very nature, an oath that concludes ‘so help me God’ is asserting that God exists,” reads the lawsuit. “Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting or defending the Constitution as the oath demands.”
The lawsuit also claims that the appeal to God in the oath “sends the ancillary message to members of the audience that disbelieve in God that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to those that believe in God that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.”
However, on its website the Department of Homeland Security makes it clear that individuals becoming U.S. citizens are not required to include the phrase “so help me God” in the oath they take, nor are they required to justify why they choose not to seek God’s help.
In 2009, Perrier-Bilbo was offered the option of reciting a Godless oath of citizenship, but staunchly insists in her present lawsuit that such an alternative would make her “feel less than a full new citizen,” and so nothing less than an entire ban of “so help me God” will suffice.