Texas State House candidate Elizabeth Tarrant’s positions on issues should matter to voters. Her religion, or lack thereof, should not. But her opponent, incumbent Craig Goldman, decided to forgo a debate on the issues and go negative. In a campaign fundraising mailer (read page one, page two), Goldman twice describes Tarrant as an atheist, which he claims is evidence she doesn’t share the values of the citizens in the district. This is plain, old-fashioned bigotry. Goldman, who is a member of a religious minority, should know better.
Although our Constitution states that no religious test should ever be used for public office, atheists have been fighting bigots like Goldman for years to make this right a reality. A unanimous Supreme Court in 1961’s Torcaso v. Watkins ruled that religious qualifications for public office, jury service, and court testimony were unconstitutional. Although this case should have settled the issue, humanist Herb Silverman spent six years in court in the 1990s to force South Carolina to accept his application to become a notary public without acknowledging God.
Since then we have had one member of Congress publicly announce he does not hold a god-belief while in office—Pete Stark from California—and a small handful of state legislators identify as atheist, humanist, and agnostic. With nearly a quarter of Americans identifying as nontheistic or nonreligious, our democracy is impoverished when these citizens are effectively denied the opportunity to pursue elected and appointed public office. The bigotry exhibited by Goldman must be rejected.
As for values, those genuinely interested in Tarrant’s should consider her goals to expand Medicaid to aid lower- and middle- income citizens, increase funding for free school breakfasts to better enable children to learn in the classroom, and establish a living wage so people working forty hours a week can have a decent standard of living in their community. If voters support these efforts, then they should weigh them against her opponents’ priorities when casting their vote. Her atheism, just like his religion, shouldn’t matter.