Showing posts with label separation of church and state. Show all posts
Showing posts with label separation of church and state. Show all posts

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Why Does My State Have A Law Preventing Me From Holding Public Office?

Texas Longhorns

                I have never considered politics as a serious career option.  I have always held an optimistic view of what public servants can accomplish and given my diverse background, I’ve always thought I could add something to the public sphere.  I am an agnostic 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, however, believe 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 public office?  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Separation of Church And State

          I am an agnostic.  My family is Mormon.  My husband is a Hindu who came to the U.S. for grad school.  Within this spectrum of religious and cultural identities is the beauty and promise of the American dream; we are a nation of diversity and opportunity.  We are a pluralistic society, one in which every individual’s religious and cultural identity should be respected.  The strength of the United States is in the promise of tolerance for the entire spectrum of humanity. 
          Every-time I hear the intersection of politics and religion – the insertion of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the constant refrain of “God Bless America” by politicians on both sides of the aisle, the words of “In God We Trust” printed on our national currency – I find myself wondering where the American ideal went astray.  Our nation was founded on the idea of a separation between church and state.  The First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”   
          Separation of church and state is not meant to tear down the institution of religion; rather separation of church and state is meant to foster an environment in which individuals feel comfortable worshipping according to the dictates of their own conscience.  The refrain of “under God” or “God bless America” assumes many things, the least of which is a belief in a singular God.  This may feel like a small matter – the removal of a few words that may or may not offend most people.  But if these words are to be repeated in a public environment, with the attendant pressure to follow along, then we need to respect the idea that religion is a deeply personal and private matter.  Religion does not belong in either the government or government-funded institutions. 
          John F. Kennedy, in his 1960 address on religion, stated,

"I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him."

          With this election cycle heating up, the controversy surrounding candidates and their religion is only getting worse.  God – and prayer – has been mentioned by both Democrats and Republicans alike.  I don’t feel comfortable with the intersection of religion and politics; this is not the country we were meant to be.  We are a far cry from the ideals upon which our nation was founded.  If we are to truly become a nation where all people may worship according to the dictates of their own conscience, then we need to remove religious ideologies from the confines of government.   
          In the words of John F Kennedy: “Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”