Representation Matters: State Representative Elinor Levin

This is part of The Humanist’s monthly series highlighting openly nonreligious elected officials across the nation. Because of the work of the Center for Freethought Equality, the political and advocacy arm of the American Humanist Association, there are over 120 elected officials at the local, state, and federal level who identify with the atheist and humanist community serving in 34 states across the country. Join the Center for Freethought Equality to help politically empower the atheist and humanist community—membership is FREE!

The Center for Freethought Equality’s advances have been groundbreaking. Prior to the 2016 election, there were only five state legislators and no members of Congress who publicly identified with our community; because of its efforts, today we have seventy-three state legislators and a member of Congress, Jared Huffman (CA-2), who publicly identify with our community. It is critical that our community connect and engage with the elected officials who represent our community and our valuesyou can see a list of these elected officials here.

State Representative Elinor Levin

Representing Iowa’s 89th District

“Although I know that a lot of my colleagues consult their religion when they look at policy, that just does not come up for me. Instead, my priorities are based in compassion and sustainability…”

Representative Elinor Levin was first elected to the Iowa House of Representatives in 2022. She currently serves on the Committees on Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Veterans Affairs.

Born in the Chicago suburbs, Levin has lived in Iowa off and on since college, including more than seven years in the South District. She earned a B.A. in secondary education and English from Cornell College in 2009 and went on to build her career in education. She has worked as a freelance fiction editor, an English teacher, and a private writing tutor.

Upon moving to Iowa City in 2010, Levin volunteered at the local hospital, got involved with Iowa City Community Theatre, and worked as a long-term substitute teacher until her spouse joined the US Navy as a Corpsman and they moved out of state. When his contract was up, they returned to Iowa, where she became more deeply involved in community and arts organizations.

She became President of the Iowa City Community Theatre, and joined the Leadership Committee of the South District Neighborhood Association, the Board of Directors for the South District SSMID, the Voter Services Committee, the Board of Directors of the League of Women Voters of Johnson County, and the Quire of Eastern Iowa.

Levin is a proud aunt to lots of amazing kids, a military spouse, and an animal lover.

Sarah Levin: What motivated you to run for office?

Elinor Levin: I ran for office because so many of the Iowans I know under the age of forty are leaving the state, not feeling welcome, not seeing a future here, or not wanting to start families here. Yet there are so many others who don’t have that option due to financial or familial considerations. I was fortunate enough to get the complete opposite impression when I was forming my opinion of Iowa during college, and I want to see this state grow and thrive, not drive away young people.

Sarah Levin: What are your policy priorities and how does your nonreligious worldview impact your policy platform?

Elinor Levin: Although I know that a lot of my colleagues consult their religion when they look at policy, that just does not come up for me. Instead, my priorities are based in compassion and sustainability, meaning I’m always asking myself (and those around me) a few questions: What problem are we solving? Who are we helping? Who are we hurting? How will this play out down the road? Whether considering Iowa’s laws impacting public schools, access to health care, water quality, or economic growth, this is what it always comes back to for me.

If it were up to me, we would all be asking these questions, because we don’t all share religious views, but we do share this place, these resources, and a responsibility to one another.

Sarah Levin: Why was it important for you to be open about your nonreligious identity

Elinor Levin: If I was going to try to “represent” anyone, I had to do so as myself. I am nonreligious, as are a growing number of my peers. I’m also (relatively) young, an educator, a vegetarian, a military spouse, and the child of a single parent. All of these aspects of me have come up in my campaign, and, subsequently, in my service.

We all bring our experiences and perspectives with us to our roles, and we have to be honest about the lenses we carry when we are asking folks to vote for us.

Sarah Levin: How did voters respond (if at all) to your openness about your nonreligious identity?

Elinor Levin: In my campaign, I had no significant interactions with voters on the topic of my lack of religion. Since being elected, I get more interest in my Jewish ethnicity than in any religious leanings, mostly because my district seems to value sending a different perspective to our Legislature. In addition, they simply appreciate that I am open and honest with them about who I am and what is important to me, and make myself available and listen to any constituent who requests my time.

From some of my colleagues, I do get more questions. One individual, in particular, asked to sit down and seek to understand what I even mean by “nonreligious.” This was a person who was genuinely not sure what to make of the idea of not having a religion to guide one’s morals, and led to a very interesting conversation. They did end the conversation by telling me that they pray for me every night, which was well-meaning and kind.

To learn more about State Representative Elinor Levin: