Staffers subject clergy constituent to sermon

By: Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis
| Published 03/25/2013


To the Editor:

Rep. Toth's staffers act unprofessionally

As both a citizen and a Pastor, it is dismaying to experience firsthand the level of disintegration of our culture's political discourse and our democratic processes. It is particularly dismaying to experience these in the office of my own elected representative.

On Monday, March 4th, I took time and effort to go to Austin to meet with Rep. Steve Toth (Woodlands (R)-District 15) regarding my concerns that funding for the TX Women's Health program be reinstated. The 2011 cuts disproportionately affected poor and rural Texans' access to basic gynecological health care, cervical screenings and family planning. As a woman, mother, and Pastor, I find this compelling both financially for taxpayers (the cost of not reinstating this funding is far higher than the funding itself), as well as morally (the health and well-being of Texas women and families). I was there to advocate for equal access for all Texans to the Texas Women's Health Plan.

Entering Rep. Toth's office, I was greeted by two staffers. As I shared my concerns, I was interrupted by one, who inquired whether I knew the history of birth control. I related that I did not, explicitly, but know it helps lift families out of poverty and increases women's self-determination as citizens. For the next ten minutes, I was subjected to what can only be called a sermon by the two staffers, on the subjects of sin, abstinence, morality and personal responsibility. It was implied that my own morality was clearly questionable, and that legislation should clearly reflect their views and not be accommodating of other individuals' personal choices.

I left that office highly disappointed. In my understanding, the role of an elected official and their staffers is to listen to their constituents' concerns, not to subject them to lectures stemming from their own personal or religious convictions. I was not listened to. No notes were taken. Clearly, there was no intention of sharing my concerns, both financial and moral, with my own representative. It was both a breakdown in representative government, and highly unprofessional behavior.

Secondly, the presumption displayed in that office was a clear violation of church and state. The place for moral assertions and teachings is in homes and religious communities, not in the halls of the State House, which serves all of the many diverse people of this state. This is, after all, why we enacted religious freedom in this country to begin with - to protect the lives of the many from being dictated by the religious convictions of a few.

I am pleased that my experience with Senator Tommy Williams' office was the precise opposite. Rep. Toth, I hope that you and your staffers discover soon that all of your constituents deserve respect and a neutral hearing, regardless of your own opinions. Those in our highest offices should ultimately model to all of us the highest standards.


Rev. Beth Ellen Cooper-Davis
25 Coralberry Rd
The Woodlands, TX 77381

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