February 26, 2014

Religious affiliation is not criterion for public office

Opposition to candidates based on their faith is unconstitutional.

In last Friday morning’s article, “In Grapevine, a Tea Party leader says no to — Methodists?,” by Bud Kennedy, we became aware that Tea Party leader Julie McCarty has opposed a local candidate for criminal court judge because “he is a Methodist … Methodists tend not to take a stand on issues — anything goes.”

She explained why she is supporting another candidate in the race: “My preference is a straitlaced Baptist to an everything-goes Methodist.”

Early in our nation’s history, our Founding Fathers decided to be free of the destructive denominational wars of Europe.

They knew first-hand the dangers of sectarian conflict and sought to prevent this nation from the horrors that continue in the present day in countries like Bosnia, Syria, and Nigeria, to name but a few.

The writers of our Texas Constitution found it equally important after their experience of forced conversion to Catholicism by Mexico. They clearly thought religious tests were irrelevant as a criterion for holding public office and said so in Article 1, Section 4 of the Texas Constitution.

If McCarty chooses to base her own vote on denominational membership, that is her prerogative, but her public statements are problematic given her role as co-founder and president of the NE Tarrant Tea Party, which “promotes constitutional governance.” Her position is clearly counter to the values of both the Texas and the U.S. constitutions.

Surely her views cannot reflect the consensus position of her organization since, according to the website, their “newest board member…sings in the choir at Keller United Methodist Church.”

We’ve been down this road before in Texas.

Shortly before the Civil War, a Methodist minister was lynched in Fort Worth, and two more whipped and run out of Dallas in what became known as the “Texas Troubles.”

Their “crime” was being members of a faction of the Methodist Church that opposed slavery, as opposed to the faction supporting it.

The ramifications of the current situation represent more than a flap among mainline Protestants.

Leaders of all political persuasions, such as Mormon former Gov. Mitt Romney, Roman Catholic President John F. Kennedy, and Muslim U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, have had the opportunity to serve the public in spite of those who thought they were not religiously qualified because of the religious freedom that the Founders of both Texas and the United States embedded in our Constitutions to protect us from religious bigotry.

Neither Texas Impact nor the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy endorses candidates, and our organizations have no stake in the outcome of this or any other campaign.

We raise our voices purely to affirm that there is no place for religious or denominational affiliation as a criterion for holding public office in the state of Texas.

There is no excuse to suggest otherwise.

Signed by members of the boards of Texas Impact and the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy. A list of the members is available here: texasimpact.org/board.

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