Should We Have "Faith" in the Democrats' "God"-less Party Platform?

EDIT (6:00 PM EDT): Apparently we shouldn't. Delegates just voted to insert mention of "god" into the platform. The language is:

"We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential."

This mirrors a reference to "God-given potential" in the Democrats' 2008 Party Platform.


ORIGINAL POST

The Democratic National Convention has begun in Charlotte, NC and already religion has become a flashpoint in the coverage. Or rather, the lack of religion in the Democratic Party platform has. 

The newly adopted national platform for the Democratic Party does not mention “God”. Not even in passing. By comparison, the Republican Party platform mentions “God” 10 times (12 if you count the pull quotes they re-use in the document). This brings the national parties into almost exact parity with the Texas state party platforms, which the Secular Coalition has previously addressed.

A study of the American Presidency Project’s archives at the University of California, Santa Barbara sheds some light on the prevalence of “God” throughout the history of the two major parties’ platforms. What is perhaps most enlightening is that there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the frequency with which “God” appears in the respective documents. In 2000 and 2004, when the Republican candidate was a born-again evangelical Christian, the Democratic platform mentioned “God” more frequently than did the Republican platform. From 1964 to 1992 the Democratic platform made no mention of “God” at all. In fact, it is nothing short of a miracle that the apocalypse did not occur in 1972 when neither party mentioned “God” in its platform.

The truth is that 40 years ago, for one brief shining electoral moment, our two major party platforms accurately reflected that other important document in our nation’s history that contains no mention of “God”: the Constitution of the United States. Republican Vice-Presidential Candidate Paul Ryan has openly questioned the removal of “God” from the Democratic Party's platform, going so far as to say that the Democrats’ “purged” God. One would hope that someone vying to be a heartbeat away from the highest office in the land would be aware of Article VI of the Constitution that states that there can be no religious test for public office. Perhaps the Founding Fathers are to be blamed for the original “purge” since no deity is mentioned at all?

None of this is to say that the Democratic platform is a welcoming document for nontheists. In place of any direct reference to “God”, there is a lengthy paragraph about “faith”:

Faith. Faith has always been a central part of the American story, and it has been a driving force of progress and justice throughout our history. We know that our nation, our communities, and our lives are made vastly stronger and richer by faith and the countless acts of justice and mercy it inspires. Faith-based organizations will always be critical allies in meeting the challenges that face our nation and our world - from domestic and global poverty, to climate change and human trafficking. People of faith and religious organizations do amazing work in communities across this country and the world, and we believe in lifting up and valuing that good work, and finding ways to support it where possible. We believe in constitutionally sound, evidence-based partnerships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations to serve those in need and advance our shared interests. There is no conflict between supporting faith-based institutions and respecting our Constitution, and a full commitment to both principles is essential for the continued flourishing of both faith and country.

The secular community is no stranger to advancing the principles of this country. Our constituency serves in the military, educates children, shelters the homeless, feeds the hungry, and heals the sick. They do so for any number of reasons, and they should not be made to feel like their motivation is any less patriotic, any less important, any less American than any other citizen. The implication of the “faith” section of the Democratic Party’s platform is that faith is necessary to be or to do good.

Nonbelievers are members of each of the major political parties (and many others). They deserve to be recognized, not marginalized. At the end of the day, whether or not “God” appears any number of times in a platform, what remains true is that our secular government best serves the people when religion is truly separate from the state. Until then, the secular movement must gaze longingly toward a future that looks like 1972. 

 

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