The Oath of U.S. Citizenship and Allegiance to the U.S. Constitution

Group of immigrants becoming US citizens during a naturalization ceremony
Immigrants Become Citizens During Naturalization Ceremony. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

Under federal law, the following United States Oath of Allegiance, legally called the “Oath of Allegiance,” must be taken by all immigrants who wish to become naturalized citizens of the United States:

I hereby declare, on oath,
  • that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen;
  • that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic;
  • that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same;
  • that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by law;
  • that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law;
  • that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law;
  • and that I take this obligation freely without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.

In acknowledgement whereof I have hereunto affixed my signature.

Under the law, the Oath of Allegiance may be administered only by officials of the U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS); immigration judges; and eligible courts.

History of the Oath

The first use of an oath of allegiance was recorded during the Revolutionary War when new officers in the Continental Army were required by Congress to disavow any allegiance or obedience to England’s King George the Third.

The Naturalization Act of 1790, required immigrants applying for citizenship simply to agree “to support the Constitution of the United States.” The Naturalization Act of 1795 added the requirement that immigrants renounce the leader or “sovereign” of their native country. The Naturalization Act of 1906 along with creating the federal government’s first official Immigration Service, added wording to the oath requiring new citizens to swear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution and to defend it against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

In 1929, the Immigration Service standardized the language of the Oath. Prior to then, each immigration court was free to develop its own wording and method of administering the Oath.

The section in which applicants swear to bear arms and perform non-combat service in the U.S. armed forces was added to the Oath by the Internal Security Act of 1950, and the section about performing work of national importance under civilian direction was added by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952.

How the Oath Could be Changed

The current exact wording of the Oath of Citizenship is established by a presidential executive order. However, the Customs and Immigration Service could, under the Administrative Procedure Act, change the text of the Oath at any time, provided that the new wording reasonably meets the following “five principals” required by Congress:

  • Allegiance to the United States Constitution
  • Renunciation of allegiance to any foreign country to which the immigrant has had previous allegiances
  • Defense of the Constitution against enemies "foreign and domestic"
  • Promise to serve in the United States Armed Forces when required by law (either combat or non-combat)
  • Promise to perform civilian duties of "national importance" when required by law

Exemptions to the Oath

Federal law allows prospective new citizens to claim two exemptions when taking the Oath of Citizenship:

  • Consistent with the First Amendment’s assurance of religious freedom, the phrase “so help me God” is optional and the phrase “and solemnly affirm” can be substituted for the phrase “on oath.”
  • Should the prospective citizen be unwilling or unable to vow to bear arms or perform non-combat military service because of their “religious training and belief,” they may omit those clauses.

The law specifies that the exemption from vowing to bear arms or perform non-combat military service must be based solely on the applicant’s belief in relation to a “Supreme Being,” rather than on any political, sociological, or philosophical views or a personal moral code. In claiming this exemption, applicants may be required to provide supporting documentation from their religious organization. While the applicant is not required to belong to a specific religious group, he or she must establish “a sincere and meaningful belief that has a place in the applicant’s life that is equivalent to that of a religious belief.”