U.S. Representative Peter Stark has been the first, and only, openly nontheist member of Congress (he has also been, over the last two years, tied for position of fourth most liberal member of the House of Representatives). In January, however, Stark will be retiring from Congress. He has been replaced by Eric Swalwell, who is registered to vote as a Democrat, but campaigned with the support of what he describes as “a coalition of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents”.
It remains to be seen whether Swalwell will be as reliably liberal as Stark. It seems likely, however, that Swalwell won’t be a strong supporter of the separation of church and state. Swalwell has publicly identified himself as a Christian and criticized Stark for votes seeking to uphold the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion.
American nontheists have looked to Arizona for a possible nontheist replacement of Peter Stark. During this year’s campaign, they identified Kyrsten Sinema, from Arizona’s new 9th congressional district, as a nontheist. Sinema’s campaign, however, stated that she does not categorize herself as a nontheist, and simply prefers to deal with governmental issues from a secular perspective.
Does it matter whether Sinema is theist or nontheist?
The Constitution of the United States of America states that there shall be no religious tests for public office. A test requiring non-religious identity seems as inappropriate under this provision as a test requiring religious identity.
Voters choose candidates to go to Congress to do a job – working on legislation and representing the practical needs of constituents. Matters of identity aren’t part of the job description. What members of Congress believe in private isn’t relevant. What they do in public is.
Sinema has committed to respecting the separation of church and state. Nontheist voters should be satisfied with that form of representation, and leave questions of identity alone.