The U.S. citizenship oath includes ‘so help me God’ — so a French woman is suing

There are many steps a person must take to become a citizen of the United States.

But for Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo — a French citizen living in Scituate, Massachusetts since 2000 — the most challenging part of obtaining American citizenship is the four words at the end of the United States citizenship oath: “So help me God.”

So now Perrier-Bilbo, who says she has applied for U.S. citizenship twice, is suing to remove the phrase from the oath, saying it violates her religious freedom as an atheist.

“By its very nature, an oath that concludes “so help me God” is asserting that God exists,” the lawsuit, filed in federal court Thursday, says. “Accordingly, the current oath violates the first ten 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 opening portion of the First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Perrier-Bilbo, granted permanent residency in 2002 and a green card in 2004, was given the opportunity to recite an alternative oath in 2009 that would allow the prospective American citizen to complete the oath without having to say “so help me God,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit, however, says that having the official oath include a reference to God — and then allowing those with objections to the phrase to use an altered oath — makes her “feel less than a full new citizen.”

But don’t expect her lawsuit to change much, Erwin Chemerinsky, a First Amendment expert and dean of Berkeley Law, told MassLive.

“Courts generally have not been receptive to this in the context of the Pledge of Allegiance,” he wrote in an email.

He’s referring, in part, to the Supreme Court case Elk Grove United School District v. (Michael) Newdow, which found the court unanimously ruling that he didn’t have a right to sue because he didn’t have “sufficient custody over his daughter.”

But three justices released other rulings saying that reciting the Pledge of Allegiance in school is constitutional.

Newdow argued that having his daughter listen to the words “under God” violated her First Amendment rights, even though she was not required to participate in the pledge or utter the words.

Now Newdow is one of the lawyers in Perrier-Bilbo’s suit.

In another case regarding religious freedom, the U.S. Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled last month that a cross-shaped memorial in Bladensburg, Md, created in honor of Americans who died in World War I must be taken down, Fox News reported.

The court said the cross is unconstitutional because it stands on public land and is in the shape of the “core symbol of Christianity,” Fox News reported.