An atheist woman from France who wants to become an American citizen is suing to remove the phrase "so help me God" from the citizenship oath because she says it violates the U.S. Constitution. (Image source: YouTube screenshot)
Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo is a French national, an atheist and a green-card holder who's lived in Scituate, Massachusetts, since 2000, MassLive reported.
She wants to become an American citizen, the outlet said.
But according to a federal lawsuit she filed last week, the phrase "so help me God" in the citizenship oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom, MassLive added.
“By its very nature, an oath that concludes 'so help me God' is asserting that God exists,” the lawsuit reads, Newsweek reported.
The phrase also "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," the suit claims, the magazine added.
The suit was filed against Congress, the United States of America and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna, Newsweek reported.
Were alternatives to saying 'so help me God' offered to her prior to the suit?
Yes. Perrier-Bilbo was told she could participate in a citizenship ceremony without saying the phrase or use a modified oath in a private ceremony, MassLive said.
But she claimed the presence of "so help me God" in the oath is an unconstitutional government endorsement of religion, the outlet reported.
In addition, the suit said the government's alternatives offered to Perrier-Bilbo place an illegal burden on her exercise of her beliefs, MassLive added.
"By placing a religious statement (to which Plaintiff does not adhere) into the Oath of Naturalization, and then forcing Plaintiff to use an alternative oath (so that she must feel less than a new citizen), Defendants substantially burden Plaintiff in her exercise of religion," the suit claims, the outlet noted.
What's the forecast?
Perrier-Bilbo's attorney Michael Newdow in 2000 unsuccessfully sued his child's school district to remove the words "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, MassLive reported.
Newdow also filed unsuccessful lawsuits to remove the phrase "In God We Trust" from U.S. currency and prevent "so help me God" from inclusion in the presidential oath of office, the outlet added. ("So help me God" isn't officially part of the presidential oath, but presidents going way back have used the phrase.)
Dean of Berkeley Law Erwin Chemerinsky, an expert on the First Amendment, told MassLive that Newdow's defeat in the Pledge of Allegiance case could mean bad news for Perrier-Bilbo's lawsuit.
"Courts generally have not been receptive to this in the context of the Pledge of Allegiance," Chemerinsky noted to the outlet.
Newdow wasn't immediately available for comment, MassLive said.