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An oath of citizenship is a promise of loyalty to a country. It is usually a simple statement made in the presence of legal witnesses or a judge. Taking an oath of citizenship is often the final step in the naturalization process, which allows a person originally belonging to another nation to become a full citizen of an adopted country.
The tradition of an oath of citizenship dates back to the days when fealty was an important part of an alliance. In feudal systems, oaths were given by vassals to their lord, and lords to a monarch. In a sense, giving an oath of fealty created the idea of citizenship; requiring lords or vassals to swear allegiance allowed a lord or monarch to know the boundaries of his realm both in terms of influence and in terms of literal geography. If a war occurred, monarchs could measure their defenses in terms of the resources of their sworn nobility.
Today, an oath of citizenship is a deeply symbolic gesture. In most countries, it serves as a promise to uphold the laws, abide by the judgments, and maintain the standards of the realm. Swearing an oath of citizenship as part of a naturalization process grants a person all the rights of native-born citizens, but also entails responsibilities as well; a naturalized citizen is usually eligible for military service and subject to taxes after swearing his or her oath.
Some citizenship oaths include a renunciation clause. This clause is to ensure that the person is not torn in his or her loyalties between a native country and an adopted one. Often, in order to gain full citizenship in a new country, a person must be willing to forgo the rights of his or her previous land. A renunciation may be used instead of allowing concurrent citizenship, since the new country is, in essence, taking a risk to its loyalty by allowing non-natives to become citizens. In order to protect national interests, the state may see it as imperative to ensure that naturalized citizens are completely clear in where their loyalty rests.
In most countries, an oath of citizenship is legally binding, meaning that the citizen is now eligible to be charged with treason and sedition if he or she acts against the state. In order to ensure its legality, the oath is often administered by a judge or government official. Oaths may be administered in a group setting, where all immigrants that have completed the naturalization process give their oath in unison before a judge. This ceremony is often solemn but celebratory; much like a graduation, some oath ceremonies are open for friends and relatives to attend.
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