The Democratic National Committee’s Insult to Atheists

Goodbye, Democratic Party. Unless there is a major, credible act of contrition, right now, I’m outta here—for good.

On Friday, a batch of leaked emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) included a little missive from a Brad Marshall. Marshall is not some clueless underling—he is the chief financial officer of the party and has been for six years now. The gist of the message is to recommend that some unnamed individual, probably Bernie Sanders, be publicly reviled for being an atheist.

Marshall’s first response when this came to light was that the email, which does not mention Sanders by name, was not about him at all, but about a surrogate. “I do not recall this. I can say it would not have been Sanders. It would probably be about a surrogate.”

So in DNC-land, smearing a big shot like Bernie Sanders as an atheist is a no-no, but smearing a mere “surrogate” as an atheist is a cool thing to do.

It didn’t stop there. Marshall’s boss, Amy Dacey, is the chief executive officer of the entire DNC operation. She gave a one-word response: “AMEN.”

As the chattering class erupted over all this, Marshall finally issued a backhanded apology: “I deeply regret that my insensitive, emotional emails would cause embarrassment to the DNC, the Chairwoman, and all of the staffers who worked hard to make the primary a fair and open process. The comments expressed do not reflect my beliefs nor do they reflect the beliefs of the DNC and its employees. I apologize to those I offended.”

In other words, he’s sorry he got caught, even though he didn’t do anything wrong because it was the devil who moved his fingers on the keyboard, not his true self. In fact, the only thing even the devil may have done wrong was to make the primary less of a “fair and open process.” Condemning those who hold certain religious beliefs? Stepping on the neck of the already most disdained group in America? It doesn’t even dawn on Marshall that there’s anything wrong with that.

The only other response is from DNC chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who has fallen on her sword by resigning. Not really, though. All she’s doing is sliding sideways from one high-ranking position to another. She’s set to become honorary chair of Hillary Clinton’s fifty-state program to help elect Democrats around the country. This will give her plenty of opportunity to look under rocks, find slimy nonbelievers, and tar her enemies for being just like them.

Suppose Marshall had discovered (or suspected) that Bernie Sanders had a black ancestor and tried to bring that out to hurt his candidacy. Would his sin be seen only as interfering with the primary or would it be seen (correctly) as an unforgivable slur on all black people?

Suppose he had discovered (or suspected) that Bernie Sanders had a romantic relationship with a man years ago and treated that as a tool for tainting the senator’s reputation. Would LGBTQ individuals stand for that? Of course they wouldn’t. Nor should they. Marshall’s desk would already have been cleaned out by now. So would Dacey’s. And Wasserman Schultz wouldn’t be given any “honorary” titles at all.

So tainting somebody for race or a consensual sexual act is verboten. As it should be. But tainting them for lack of belief in a spirit in the sky isn’t even seen as objectionable, at least so far.

Sen. Sanders, by the way, didn’t cover himself in glory with his response: “First of all, I’m not an atheist.” Would he have thought to say “First of all, I’m not black”? “First of all, I’ve never had gay sex”? Without ever getting to the all-important “And what if I had? Why should the party be demeaning people like that?”

What needs to happen—quickly, and from the top (i.e., from Hillary Clinton) – is a lengthy and sincere defense of the right of atheists, agnostics, humanists, and the other nonreligious individuals to dignity, acceptance, and respect. Not just a vague, generic half-sentence. “Sincere,” by the way, means that Dacey and Marshall are gone. There also needs to be a ringing statement that the days of tolerating the bashing of the nonreligious are as over as the days of bashing Muslims, Catholics, and Jews.

The nonreligious are not a little fringe clique. We’re the biggest belief group in the party, by a wide margin. We’re also, most likely, the biggest money source for the party, though I can’t prove that. So why do we keep putting up with this abuse?

The answer, for me: “I won’t. I’m outta here.”

The Mussolini-wannabe the Republicans just nominated is loathed by most humanists. But there are other options. If you’re a fiscal conservative, Gary Johnson and the Libertarian Party may be appealing. If you’re a fiscal liberal, Jill Stein and the Green Party may be appealing. As far as I know, neither of these parties tries to win friends and influence people by snidely insinuating that so-and-so is a filthy little atheist. Like the Democrats do, with impunity. Until now.