Why Does My State Have A Law Banning Me From Holding Public Office?
I have never considered going into politics as a serious career option. Given my diverse background, I’ve always thought I could add something to the public sphere. As a person with a Mormon family and Hindu in-laws, respecting religious differences is a part of my day-to-day life. I understand what it means to worry about paying for college and what it means to grow up in a family without money or connections. Watching my husband – a very remarkable individual – navigate the murky immigration system of this country has given me a deeper sympathy for the realities of immigrant life. I have a deep respect for education; I believe no individual should be held back from pursuing educational opportunities because of an inability to pay. I am a wife, a daughter, a neighbor, an intellectual, and a dreamer. I am, at my core, an American; I believe that people should be given the opportunities to work hard and succeed in life. However, there is the reality of being elected; I have never considered myself to be a serious candidate for public office.
Why then, does it hurt so much to find out that the state I live in has a clause in their state constitution that bans a person like me – a nontheist – from holding public office? Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution states “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.”
So, in theory, if I were to run for public office in Texas and win, I would be required to acknowledge the presence of a Supreme Being. I am an agnostic; I don’t know if there is a higher power or not. I do believe, however, that lying is wrong. I cannot see myself acknowledging something that I do not believe to be true. In my mind, that is a lie.
Throughout my life, there have been many obstacles to becoming the person that I am today. As a girl being raised in the Mormon faith, I was told not to dream of higher education or a career; as a woman, becoming a mother and a housewife was my duty in life. As someone who decided to leave the Mormon Church, I ran up against the many prejudices against people who make the decision to leave. As the seventh child in a lower middle class family, I had to fight to make it through college without financial assistance from my parents. This fight was ultimately successful through a combination of hard work and the generosity of scholarships.
For every road-block in life, there was a solution available to me. I spent a lot of time thinking about who I was and what I believed in; when I figured out the answer, I acted in a manner that was true to who I am as a person, in spite of the negative consequences. But never, in all of my years, have I come up against a law that specifically bans someone of my beliefs from a career choice. And that is what hurts the most; that the state I have chosen to reside in has taken the official stance that, as a non-theist, I am not capable or worthy of holding public office.
I may never be in a position where this law becomes an issue. However, I can verify that there are many other non-theists out there who can contribute to the public sphere in a valuable and lasting manner. Why is my state banning them from holding a public office?
Rachel Velamur is the author of the blog "A Post-Mormon Life", where she writes about what life was like as a Mormon and what her life is like after leaving the Mormon Church.