Monday, June 14, 2021

7:00 p.m. CDT via Zoom

Non-Christian Americans in Public Office:

A Balancing Act?

For almost 75 years, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has worked to protect the right of all Americans to practice the religion of their choice – or none --

without the government telling them what to believe or how to practice their faith.

How does this apply to an elected government official, especially one who is not a Christian?

What if their public duties interfere with their worship or their beliefs conflict with their office's responsibilities? 

These three Houstonians have achieved election to public office despite not being in the religious majority.

Learn how they have balanced their service and their beliefs.


Ellen Cohen

Ellen Cohen

Former Texas Representative and

Houston Council Member & Mayor Pro Tem

Ellen Cohen has a lifetime commitment to the Jewish commandment Tikkun Olam, which means “repair the world.” A native of Cleveland, Ohio, she attended The Ohio State University, then relocated to Montreal, her husband's hometown. After contracting breast cancer before age 30, she founded Reach to Recovery, a program allowing women to help other women recovering from breast cancer that is now a fundamental healthcare strategy. 

Her family moved to Houston in 1977. She became executive director of the American Jewish Committee, fostering mutual understanding and tolerance in a diverse community for ten years. For 18 years, she was president and CEO of the Houston Area Women’s Center, fighting domestic and sexual violence.

Cohen was elected to the Texas House as representative of district 134 in 2006. During her two terms, she worked to bring balance and integrity to the legislature and she was widely respected by her colleagues in both parties. She served three terms on the Houston City Council, from 2011 until she was term-limited in 2019, and she was named Mayor Pro Tem in 2015.

Cohen has received many awards for her extraordinary service in various venues, including “Woman of Wisdom” from the Houston Area Women’s Center, “Texas Advocacy Award” from the American Cancer Society and “Best Freshman Performance as a Bill Sponsor” from Capitol Inside, and she was named one of Houston Woman Magazine’s “50 Most Influential Women.” She lives in Houston with her dog, Pinky. She has two children, four grandsons and one great-grandson.

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​​Rabeea Collier

Harris County District Judge

113th District Court

Rabeea Collier was elected to the 113th District Court of Harris County in 2018. She currently co-chairs the COVID Response Judicial Task Force for Harris County that focuses on reopening courts to in-person proceedings and jury trials. She was recently appointed to the Curriculum Committee for the Texas Center for the Judiciary, which comprises approximately 15 judges who develop judicial education for all Texas judges. She also serves on the board of the Asian American Bar Association of Houston. 


Prior to the bench, Collier was a private litigation attorney, representing individuals, non-profits and small to publicly traded businesses in Harris County for over a decade. For eight consecutive years, Collier received the Rising Star Award by Super Lawyers. She has served on the boards of the Harris County Democratic Lawyers' Association and the Association of Women Attorneys, on the Women in the Profession Committee of the State Bar of Texas and as co-chair of the Solo Practitioners Section of the Houston Young Lawyers Association. She is a current Silver Life member of the Houston Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).  


Collier is a graduate of Kingwood High School and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government from the University of Texas at Austin. She received her Juris Doctor degree from Texas Southern University Thurgood Marshall School of Law in Houston. She lives in north Houston with her husband, Robert Collier, and two sons.

Jon Rosenthal

Jon Rosenthal

Texas Representative

District 135

Jon Rosenthal was born in Stanford, California and came to Texas as a teenager when his father, Haskell, became a professor at the University of Texas at Austin. Raised in a multi-religious family with a Christian mother and a Jewish father, Rosenthal identifies himself as agnostic and multi-religious.


A 1991 graduate of The University of Texas at Austin, Rosenthal earned his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering. He has since worked as an engineer in and around the oil and gas industry. Rosenthal considers himself an engineer, not a politician. However, dismayed by the results of the 2016 election, he founded a chapter of Indivisible, an organization opposing the agenda of the new presidential administration, in northwest Houston. His newfound activism made him aware of how poorly Texas was ranked in terms of public education and access to healthcare. He was also determined to combat bigotry and discrimination in all forms, and he decided to run for the Texas legislature.


Rosenthal was elected to represent District 135 in the Texas House of Representatives in 2018. He has been a strong fighter, advocate and champion for better public schools, healthcare and comprehensive criminal justice reform across the state. As only one of two practicing engineers in the Texas House, he brings a unique background to the chamber. He was given the “Freshman of the Year” award by the nonpartisan Legislative Study Group.

Rosenthal is happily married to Aminta, and they share two adult children. The family has lived in northwest Houston since 2007.

Chris Bell, Moderator

Chris Bell is a former United States Congressman, a former at-large member of the Houston City Council and the 2006 Democratic nominee for Governor of Texas. 

After earning a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Texas at Austin, Chris became a television and radio reporter, first in Amarillo and then in Houston. He moved to Houston to attend South Texas College of Law and, while going to school, he covered the courthouse for KTRH radio. In 1991, he was named the best radio reporter in the state by the Texas Associated Press. After earning his law degree, Chris became a respected trial lawyer, winning numerous jury verdicts in both criminal and civil court. Since joining the firm of Braun & Gresham last year, he now divides his time between Houston and Austin.

Bell served five years on the Houston City Council from 1997 to 2001, followed by one term in the United States House of Representatives from Texas's 25th Congressional District in Houston from 2003 to 2005. Most recently, he ran for Senate in 2020.

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Americans United for Separation of Church and State is a nonpartisan educational and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing the separation of religion and government as the only way to ensure freedom of religion, including the right to believe or not believe, for all.

AU is the only organization dedicated solely to protecting and preserving separation of church and state

in the United States. 

Our Houston chapter, founded in 1995, promotes AU's mission in Houston and in Texas

through education, advocacy and collaboration with other local organizations, activists, faith leaders,

and houses of worship.

Invite your friends to learn more about Americans United's fight to ensure that the government cannot tell Americans what to believe or how to practice their faith.

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