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.  

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