Rules Are for Schmucks: The Parties and Their Platforms

The Democratic National Committee (DNC) finally got around to issuing a formal statement and apology about the leaked email demonizing atheists that created such a ruckus at the outset of their convention.

An apology that makes things worse.

As one critic of my article on the subject two weeks ago pointed out, it’s perhaps unfair to slam a fellow too hard for an offhand email he never intended for general consumption. It was actually his apology I was more concerned about, but even that is just one guy, under time pressure. When the new interim chair of the DNC issued a formal statement to try to put out the fire, though, you have to believe every syllable and nuance was wordsmithed by a team of political gurus. Their considered wisdom is that atheists are such awful, depraved people that no DNC-er should ever be so vicious as to call a Democratic candidate something as vile as that. The key sentence at the heart of the apology: “The DNC does not―and will not―tolerate disrespectful language exhibited toward our candidates.” So suggesting that someone doesn’t believe in magic spirits is “disrespectful” and tarring someone for being an atheist is perfectly okay as long as it’s not done to “our candidates.”

It appears to be the Democratic point of view that nonbelievers like me should be good little boys and girls, taking their insults in stride. In fact, I should revel in them and be grateful that political wizards shrewder than I have the sagacity to slap me in the face for the greater good of defeating the Evil Trump. I should glory in the opportunity to be sacrificed on the altar of more plum jobs for deserving Democrats.

When you turn to the platform the Democrats adopted, things only get worse. They’re all for the faith-based initiative, with no changes at all to assure nondiscriminatory hiring. “We believe in lifting up and valuing the good work of people of faith and religious organizations and finding ways to support that work where possible.” In English, that means “More taxpayer money for religion.”

They are firmly against every kind of discrimination you can imagine, except one: there’s nary a word against the widespread discrimination against atheists, agnostics, humanists, and other nonbelievers, which figures, since they practice the same vilification themselves.

The Democratic platform is a longish document about all the improvements the party wants to make to the world. It’s fair to assume that if something isn’t mentioned in the platform, it’s something they don’t care about. Here’s a little catalog of issues completely ignored by the Democratic platform: teaching creationism, vouchers for parochial schools, church-state separation, home schooling, stem cell research, religious vaccination exemptions, tax-exempt church political endorsements, the Hobby Lobby case, force-feeding God in the Pledge of Allegiance, prayer in schools and at public meetings, religious symbols on government property, religious daycare regulation and child welfare exemptions, church pension exemptions, and church zoning exemptions.

I know enough about the Republicans already to realize that reading their platform would just make me angry. But there are still alternatives: the Libertarians and the Greens. Their platforms seem worth exploring when I carefully consider the perceptive observation of YahNé Ndgo at last weekend’s Green Party convention in Houston: that the Democrats have “demonstrated in every way, with every opportunity, that they really do not give a flying f*** about what it is you care about.” Not quite the way I might have put it, but valid nonetheless.

For Gary Johnson, the Libertarian Party nominee who in some polls is achingly close to the 15 percent threshold he needs to qualify for the televised debates, the politically shrewd thing to do would be to suck up to the traditionally Republican evangelicals who are turned off by the twice-divorced gambling mogul just nominated by the Republicans. Instead, Johnson is sticking to his principles and not caring whether they like it or not. “I just see religious freedom, as a category, as just being a black hole,” he says. He supports the prosecution of the New Mexican wedding photographer who refused to work at a same-sex wedding. When asked about the application of RFRA in the recent Little Sisters of the Poor case, he said, “I think what you’re going to end up doing is open up a plethora of discrimination that you never dreamed could even exist.…My crystal ball is you are going to get discriminated against by somebody because it’s against their religion. Somehow you have offended their religion because you’ve walked in and you’re denied service. You.…Why shouldn’t somebody be able to shoot somebody else because their freedom of religion says that God has spoken to them and that they can shoot somebody dead?”

As expected, the God lobby is lambasting him for this, just as they are for his positions in favor of same-sex marriage, legalized marijuana, and a woman’s right to choose abortion. But he’s just being true to the Libertarian Party platform, which among other things flatly states, “We oppose government actions which either aid or attack any religion”—just the opposite of the Democratic plan to shovel churches more of my money.

Remember, by the way, the hubbub when Democratic conventioneers booed the opening prayer? The Libertarians somehow managed to stage a convention without even scheduling an opening prayer or any prayer at all for that matter. Imagine that!

The Green Party convention program in Houston, Texas, last weekend somehow achieved the same prayer-less feat. And their platform has an entire section entitled “Religious Freedom and Secular Equality.”

“Secular Equality?” No, that’s not a typo. Here are a few excerpts to demonstrate what they mean by that:

  • The US Constitution states that there shall be no religious test for public office. This requirement should apply to oaths (or affirmations) for holding public office at any level, employment at all government levels, oaths for witnesses in courts, oaths for jury membership, and the oath for citizenship.
  • Elimination of displays of religious symbols, monuments, or statements on government buildings, property, web sites, money, or documents.
  • Restoration of the Pledge of Allegiance to its pre-1954 version, eliminating the politically motivated addition of “under God.”
  • Ending faith-based initiatives and charitable choice programs, whereby public funds are used to support religious organizations that do not adhere to specified guidelines and standards, including anti-discrimination laws.
  • Ending school vouchers whereby public money pays for students in religious schools.
  • Ending governmental use of the doctrines of specific religions to define the nature of family, marriage, and the type and character of personal relationships between consenting adults.
  • Ending religiously based curricula in government-funded public schools.
  • Ending the use of religion as a justification to deny children necessary medical care or subject them to physical and emotional abuse.
  • Ending the use of religion by government to define the role and rights of women in our society.
  • Revocation of the Congressional charter of the Boy Scouts of America. Any private organization that practices bigotry against certain religious beliefs and classes of people should not have a Congressional endorsement or access to public property and funds.

To be fair and balanced about it, both the Libertarian and Green platforms also contain quite a few ideas on subjects other than religion that, to me at least, seem a little nutty. But you should read them for yourself and make up your own mind.

The AHA does not endorse or oppose candidates or parties. I don’t do that either. I can’t because I haven’t made up my mind yet. I may even revisit the Democrats if they stop treating nonbelievers as their whipping boy du jour and start promoting “Secular Equality.” My advice to humanist voters is that rather than being snowed by sound bites, you should read all the platforms carefully and make a fully informed choice.