Religious liberty is under attack, and liberals, progressives and even the centrist Democratic Party is nowhere to be found. Not a single Democratic candidate has found their footing in addressing the religious based bigotry that is being put into law across the country at the urging of radically conservative Christian factions in the United States. In the vacuum left by moderating faith voices, the shrill and draconian voice of Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and numerous others in the Trump Administration has created an environment that has emboldened states to actively turn back the clock to pre-Roe v. Wade days and further. The latest fetal heartbeat law, just enacted in Mississippi makes this state now nearly impossible for women seeking abortion services (there is only one clinic in the entire state.) This law was driven by conservative religious groups just as was the “religious exemption” in the Affordable Care Act, the anti-transgender bathroom bills and the wedding cake bills. What is more, the administration has aligned itself with global faith-based partners to limit access to a variety of reproductive health care and social protection options that make it clear that this administration is working overtime to push an agenda that is entirely shaped by a narrow religious perspective on human sexuality.
But this should be no surprise. One look at the Republican Party Platform and the religious agenda is in plain sight. The platform mentions the word “faith” in the context of religion 22 times in its 66 pages and includes an entire section on the first amendment and religious liberty. This strategy has galvanized a portion of the party around a religious ideology that calls itself victim while restricting women’s rights, erasing LGBTQ people and ignoring the racial and economic realities of HIV/AIDS at the cost of yet more black and brown lives. The Republican Party Platform should in fact be called the “Conservative Religious Party Platform.”
And Democrats are silent.
The Democratic Party Platform mentions the word “faith” once and the word “religion” four times and always in the context of civil rights. Many applaud this absence, believing that the separation of church and state must begin in politics. As I watch the march toward government endorsed limitation and oppression being led by rabidly conservative faith, I know that silence is the most dangerous response. Ignoring these legislative efforts as being the actions of fringe outliers, is a mistake. After blocking most of Obama’s court appointments, the Mitch McConnell endorsed Trump Administration has successfully stacked the national courts with young conservative justices who are aligned with the Republican platform and its faith based agenda. They are the buffer that will keep these obscene laws in place.
I do believe that there must be a bright light between religion and government. But politics is an entirely ideological exercise and even just from a strategic standpoint, one has to recognize the power of religion in that dialogue. Although politics should never be driven by religion, it must always answer to ethical, moral and yes, religious ideals, that are the personal level of the political game. This is why we talk about a candidate’s family, or their like-ability or how we trust them. The challenge for Democrats is that with such a ‘big tent’ attempting to be inclusive of such a wide swath of religious ideologies, this could appear to be an impossible task. The result is that candidates largely avoid the topic altogether, except when trying to court orthodox communities or telling their personal stories.
The current and growing slate of Democratic candidates for the 2020 Presidential Election must recognize and address the religious war that is unfolding on the state legislative level and in communities across the country. The candidates must put a stake in the ground around faith in the public discourse and they must be willing to take the counsel of not just traditional Judeo-Christian leaders with large and devout “flocks”. What is more, they can’t just court Islamic leaders simply as a “show” of faith and solidarity. The smart Democratic candidate will convene a coalition of faith leaders that also includes Unitarian Universalists (like myself), Bahá’í, Buddhist, Humanist/Atheist and other spiritual/ethical voices that have a broad reach to create a platform that defends true religious liberty by bringing in as many perspectives as possible.
Religious liberty is under attack. If non-conservatives, religious nones and liberal faith leaders do not place themselves squarely in the dialogue about politics, religion and society, our voices will be permanently legislated out of the discourse. WE will be the fringe. The evolution of belief, the ability to activate global reach and increasingly fluid dialogue between cultures requires that faith leaders of all stripes be ready to fight for both freedom of religion and freedom from religion when necessary. This is the unique position on faith that a progressive candidate has the opportunity to leverage. My fear is that without this effort, we will all be headed to a new dark ages and the tools to create enlightenment will be out of our reach, just like what has now happened in Mississippi.