Remember when immigrants were proud to become U.S. citizens? Naturalization was once a rite of passage that many dreamed of, and worked hard for years to achieve. Whether they escaped the perils of communism, fled religious persecution, or simply wished to join a society where their skills could truly add value, becoming a citizen of the United States was a privilege that many millions dreamed of and strived for. At least, that used to be the general rule.
One French citizen doesn’t appear to be so appreciative. She dislikes the process by which one swears allegiance to the United States and believes she is entitled to demand that it be changed. Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, who came to the U.S. from France in 2000, is refusing to recite the citizenship oath because it concludes with the words “so help me God.” Perrier-Bilbo is an atheist, and believes that including the phrase is “asserting that God exists,” and violates the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Immigration officials in charge of her case understood her objections and offered to let her recite an alternate version of the oath that excludes the offending phrase.
However, Ms. Perrier-Bilbo also rejected the alternative wording, claiming it would make her “feel like less than a full new citizen.” She has now filed a lawsuit demanding that all references to God be removed from the Oath of Citizenship as impermissible government endorsement of religion. She says, “the phrase… sends the ancillary message to members of the audience that disbelieve in God that they are outsiders.”
The U.S. has long accorded constitutional rights to even the newest arrivals upon her shores and there is no bar to her suit. Nevertheless, if Ms.Perrier-Bilbo still feels like an outsider, perhaps she shouldn’t be attempting to naturalize. The United States naturalization process was originally intended to assure that immigrants were able to assimilate to American values and laws – not to accommodate the subjective feelings of any and every foreigner who wishes to reside here. Becoming an American citizen is a privilege, not an entitlement.
Ms. Perrier-Bilbo’s suit is frightening evidence of just how little is now demanded in exchange for U.S. citizenship. When a migrant not only feels entitled to demand naturalization, but to insist that it be delivered on her terms, perhaps it’s time to reemphasize that the social contract implies certain expectations on the part of the immigrant and the nation she is choosing to be a part of.