I submitted my dissertation on a topic I'd been thinking about for almost six years: the increase in the number of religiously unaffiliated Americans, the correlation to becoming more liberal after one has shed their religion, and what effect an increasingly liberal electorate will have on the American political landscape.
And it happened to be the very same day the DNC voted on a resolution regarding the religiously unaffiliated demographic. Coincidences can be bizarre!
I'm mostly happy as this is a step in acknowledging that atheists, agnostics, spiritual but not religious, and the religiously unaffiliated have a place in politics when the Religious Right has co-opted the political narrative for so long. It's a step toward acknowledging that the religiously unaffiliated often identify as humanist, or at least espouse similar views, ones of equality and justice.
I'm saddened to hear that it is not an operational document because I have always wanted to be courted by my political party. When I was growing up as an evangelical Southern Baptist Christian, atheists were blasphemers who were going to hell and no political party would touch them with a thirty-foot pole. Now that the religiously unaffiliated are more visible, they are being acknowledged as moral and patriotic individuals.
A similar phenomenon happened with lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgender people coming out of the closet. At first, people thought, "Oh, well, my sister isn't like all of them." But when they realized they knew not only their sister was a lesbian, but their uncle was gay, their coworker was bisexual, and the neighbor's child down the street was not a boy, they started realizing that LGBTQ individuals were both numerous, normal, and our friends and family.
The same phenomenon is happening with people who have shed their religious faith. They are increasingly visible, and therefore more understood, and they are decreasingly viewed as threats to religious institutions.
“We want to make sure people understand and recognize and respect the nonreligious as a constituency.”
-Sarah Levin, director of governmental affairs for the Secular Coalition for America
The new DNC resolution simply states that the irreligious tend to rally around issues like LGBTQ rights, women's equality, ethnic minorities, immigration, and other religious minorities, and reject using religious liberties as an excuse to justify discrimination and real harm toward minority groups and the oppressed.
However, Stephen Prothero, a professor of religion at Boston University, suggests the DNC should have said:
"We’re the Democratic Party: the party of Christians who get along with nonbelievers and nonbelievers who get along with Christians."
Which of course doesn't acknowledge the impact the largest growing "religious" demographic in the US right now, the religiously unaffiliated could have on the political dialogue.
Saying nice things about religiously unaffiliated Americans should not have a negative impact on the Democratic Party’s relationship to their Christian constituencies, according to Sarah Levin:
“I’m not persuaded that there are people who would see this resolution and suddenly say, ‘Now I’m never voting for a Democrat.”
So what's next?
This resolution provides suggestions for future action, but it is not a binding action plan; it's not funded, and it won't be publicized.
That's totally fine. But I hope that the DNC will have a Director of Humanist Outreach soon! We, as democrats, should be reaching out to a demographic that is ripe for political engagement, but we don't have to be public about it if the religious folks are going to feel persecuted.
The full text of the resolution can be found below:
DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE:
Resolution Regarding the Religiously Unaffiliated Demographic
WHEREAS, the religiously unaffiliated demographic has tripled in the last two decades, now representing 25% of the overall American population and 35% of those under the age of 30; and
WHEREAS, religiously unaffiliated Americans overwhelmingly share the Democratic Party’s values, with 70% voting for Democrats in 2018, 80% supporting same-sex marriage, and 61% saying immigrants make American society stronger; and
WHEREAS, the religiously unaffiliated demographic represents the largest religious group within the Democratic Party, growing from 19% in 2007 to one in three today; and
WHEREAS, the nonreligious have often been subjected to unfair bias and exclusion in American society, particularly in the areas of politics and policymaking where assumptions of religiosity have long predominated; and
WHEREAS, those most loudly claiming that morals, values, and patriotism must be defined by their particular religious views have used those religious views, with misplaced claims of “religious liberty,” to justify public policy that has threatened the civil rights and liberties of many Americans, including but not limited to the LGBT community, women, and ethnic and religious/nonreligious minorities; and
WHEREAS, the Democratic Party is an inclusive organization that recognizes that morals, values, and patriotism are not unique to any particular religion, and are not necessarily reliant on having a religious worldview at all; and
WHEREAS, nonreligious Americans made up 17% of the electorate in 2018 and have the potential to deliver millions more votes for Democrats in 2020 with targeted outreach to further increase turnout of nonreligious voters; and
WHEREAS, a record number of openly nonreligious candidates are running for public office;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL COMMITTEE recognizes:
The value, ethical soundness, and importance of the religiously unaffiliated demographic, a group of Americans who contribute in innumerable ways to the arts, sciences, medicine, business, law, the military, their communities, the success of the Party and prosperity of the Nation; and
That religiously unaffiliated Americans are a group that, as much as any other, advocates for rational public policy based on sound science and universal humanistic values and should be represented, included, and heard by the Party.