Late last week, a treasure trove of insider emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) was released to the public by WikiLeaks. In addition to showing some of the quid pro quo that occurs within the institution, the released emails also showed what top Democratic staffers thought were Sen. Bernie Sanders’s weaknesses, including his religion or lack thereof.
As Kristen East of Politico noted, “One email among the thousands of internal DNC messages released this week by WikiLeaks showed DNC Chief Financial Officer Brad Marshall questioning Sanders’s Jewish faith and suggesting that painting the candidate as an atheist “could make several points difference” in some late primary contests. The DNC has since apologized and attempted to reaffirm that it supports the religious freedom rights of all Americans, including atheists, humanists, and other nontheists.
Unfortunately, that mealy-mouthed apology seems to be all the DNC is interested in doing on this issue, even while it claims to be the party of the marginalized and dispossessed. The party does seem interested in standing up for other disenfranchised communities such as Muslim Americans and LGBTQ Americans. For instance, transgender activist Sarah McBride was invited to give the first ever speech by a member of the transgender community at a national convention. However, the DNC didn’t seem much interested in reaching out to atheists and humanists following the email scandal.
Speakers, including presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, could have addressed priorities of nontheists, such as working to end religious exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation, requiring churches to provide information about their finances to the IRS, and ensuring that humanist chaplains can serve in our military. Unfortunately, the speakers chose not to do so. The only real shout-outs to the nontheistic community came during a speech by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ), who said, “No matter who you are—rich or poor, Asian or white, man or woman, gay or straight, any religion or none at all—you are entitled to the full rights and responsibilities of citizenship,” and from the heavily religious speech by Rev. Dr. William Barber II, president of the North Carolina NAACP, who said that “when we love the Jewish child and the Palestinian child, and the Muslim and Buddhist, and Christian and those who have no faith but love this nation, we are reviving the heart of this democracy.”
This isn’t to say that the convention was all bad, or that it perpetuated the tone of fear and hatred found at the RNC convention. After all, many of the speakers discussed the importance of other progressive priorities such as access to contraception and abortion, voting rights, civil rights, and funding for the sciences. And Hillary Clinton did forgo the motto “In God We Trust,” instead saying, “Our country’s motto is e pluribus unum—out of many, we are one.”
But by failing to reach out to the nearly quarter of Americans who are nontheistic or religiously unaffiliated on the explicitly secular issues of church-state separation and religious freedom, the DNC and its nominee showed once again that in US politics ignoring the policy demands of those who are nonreligious is still acceptable. This rejection of the needs of an entire community is all the more proof of why humanists and atheists need governmental representation in Congress, the judiciary, and the executive branch. Without it, the needs of our community will always be swept under the rug when it’s convenient to do so.