Guess Who Won.

Almost 70 years ago, Walter Plywaski fought for the right of atheists to become U.S. citizens – and won.

He died of the Coronavirus early this year. In August 1952, Plywaski, a Hungarian refugee, petitioned for U.S. citizenship while in Hawaii. All he had left to do was say his oath of allegiance. Pulaski, however, was an atheist. He informed the judge that he could not sincerely end the oath with the words “so help me God” and requested an alternative.Judge J. Frank McLaughlin reportedly asked Plywaski to consider what it says on the back of U.S. coins: “In God We Trust.” McLaughlin then denied Plywaski citizenship, justifying his decision by proclaiming, “Our government is founded on a belief in God,” and accused Plywaski of “seeking admission on your own terms.”Plywaski appealed McLaughlin’s decision, arguing it was a violation of religious freedom while noting that natural-born citizens had the option to say affirmations rather than oaths, which allowed them to affirm their allegiance based on their own honour rather than a belief in a higher power. McLaughlin, however, stood his ground. He argued that the case was not about religious freedom but about whether Plywaski “believes in all the principles which support the free government,” which according to McLaughlin included a belief in God.

Plywaski moved to Oregon and successfully petitioned to have his case moved there to be looked at by a different judge. In January 1955, Plywaski won his case and became a citizen. Plywaski’s case confirmed that those applying for citizenship must have the option to not recite “so help me God” when taking their oath, a policy that is now explicit in the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy manual. Source: The Conversation.

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