by Rabbi Nancy Kasten
In April 2021 I joined a group from Temple Emanu-El and met (virtually) with Texas State Representative Morgan Meyer’s chief of staff to discuss several legislative bills then under consideration. The delegation, which included doctors, lawyers, and small business owners, voiced our support for legislation to increase access to and affordability of health care and to advance fairness and accountability in law enforcement.
We also expressed our concern regarding SB1, a bill we believed would undermine the ability of all Texans to cast their ballots. We asked the chief of staff why Rep. Meyer thought we needed to pass a bill that restricted access to the ballot box and disincentivized people to vote when in our decades of experience as deputy voter registrars, election workers, and poll watchers, we had never seen evidence of fraud, tampering, harvesting, or any of the other security and integrity concerns the bill was fashioned to address. He indicated that Rep. Meyer agreed; he did not think these measures were called for. But, he said, “Our constituents keep calling us and asking us what we are going to do to prevent another stolen election, and we have to do something to satisfy them.”
A member of our group who teaches medical students at U.T. Southwestern explained that when her students believe a myth about the treatment of a disease, her responsibility is to present them with evidence as to why their belief is wrong, and to continue to teach the facts. We should be able to count on elected officials to do the same. The staffer agreed, but Meyer ultimately signed the bill which is now law in our state. Since the bill was signed in September, the U.S. Department of Justice has filed several lawsuits against our state, saying that portions of SB1 violate sections of the Voting rights Act and the Civil Rights Act.
What does it bode for democracy when elected officials adopt policies based on falsehoods for political gain? If you have visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial in Washington, D.C. you may have seen this sign:
If we are worried about the future of democracy in Texas and the U.S. now is the time for each and every one of us to say so to our elected officials and candidates for office. At some point we must decide: will we elect people who design or facilitate systems that lead to fascism even if they claim we don’t “need” them? Will we elect candidates who may serve our immediate personal interests but ultimately sacrifice the very foundation upon which we have been able to live and flourish in this nation?
As people of faith, we are used to giving. We give our time, talent, and treasure to address the needs of a broken and suffering world. We give with the hope that somehow, if we do our part, we might contribute in some small way to bringing about the world that is meant to be, one where there is enough for everyone. As George Mason said in his final sermon as senior pastor of Wilshire: “The invisible God is among us and is at work through us… God reaches out through us ‘to everyone born, a place at the table.’ … The world needs [us] to stand with and for those who have been deprived of the full dignity of their created worth and denied their full participation in our democracy.”
These times require us to give more. They demand that we use our voice to make sure that others don’t lose theirs. Just as we give money and food knowing we cannot solve the issue of food insecurity for over 4 million Texans, we must not be deterred from calling our elected officials’ offices and telling them what we believe, whatever the ultimate outcome. We must do our part to turn political capital from hatred to love, from scarcity to abundance. Faith is not a spectator sport, and we need to be contenders in the game of politics, playing with all our might.