News and Notes

Published by Minnesota Atheists on

By George Kane

Head shot of George, smiling in jacket and tie.

I never expected God to be an issue at the Democratic National Convention. Christian conservatives are obviously a core constituency of the Republicans, and their stamp was unmistakable on everything that transpired at the Republican National Convention a week earlier. I expected the Democrats to make routine obeisance to religion that should infuriate everyone who values the separation of church and state, which would, however, attract no particular notice.

To my surprise, on Wednesday morning the networks reported that the platform had been released with no reference to God or to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This became the exclusive focus of the Jay Sekulow Live radio program that morning, and Republicans were quick to spin it as proof that Democrats were out of touch with the America’s religious core. It was a tempest in a tea pot, as party platforms are nothing more than appeals to special interest groups. That no platform ever mentions the separation of church and state, or expresses respect for atheists, only proves our political insignificance.

The platform committee had dropped language from the 2008 edition that acknowledged God. Fabulous! That certainly made the platform more inclusive, deleting a gratuitous dismissal of atheists.

Predictably, as soon as the Republicans crowed about the deletion, the Democrats bleated abject apologies. As soon as the convention opened on Wednesday, the platform chair, Ohio Governor Ted Strickland rose to correct the omission of the reference to God. “I am here to attest and affirm that our faith and belief in God is central to the American story and informs the values we’ve expressed in our party’s platform. In addition, President Obama recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and our party’s platform should as well.”

He did not read the two proposed insertions from the 2008 platform, because they were projected onto a large screen. The first read: “We need a government that stands up for the hopes, values, and interests of working people, and gives everyone willing to work hard the chance to make the most of their God-given potential.” The second was “Jerusalem is and will remain the capital of Israel. The parties have agreed that Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations. It should remain an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.”

Party brass apparently expected perfunctory approval for these insertions. I find it astonishing that the convention parliamentarian had not required them to be separated into distinct votes. National Convention Chairman Antonio Villaraigosa, the mayor of Los Angeles, called for the vote, which required a two-thirds majority to pass.

The video of this tableau is posted to YouTube, so you can still view it. The “No” votes were louder than the “Ayes,” clearly discomforting Villaraigosa. Reading his script from the teleprompter, he started to move forward with the proceedings, but then decided to retake the vote. This time the “Aye” vote was louder than before, but again it did not match the “No” votes. Signaling clearly that the vote was unacceptable, Villaraigosa tried a third time. The “Aye” vote was even louder than before, but again the “No” vote was louder and more enthusiastic.

Realizing that the convention was not going to follow his script, Villaraigosa overruled the delegates, announcing that “In the opinion of the chair, two-thirds have voted, the motion is adopted and the platform has been amended as shown on the screen.”

The dissent may have been primarily from supporters of Palestine, who opposed recognizing Jerusalem as part of Israel. Since the vote on the two insertions was combined, we cannot know for sure. The Democratic Party depends on the support of Jews much more than the support of Palestinians, however, so this seems unlikely. I think that it is quite likely that the true reason for the revolt was a matter of pride. The delegates were upset with the party leaders for jumping in response to every tortured grievance from the religious right. The amendments amounted to an apology that surely rankled them.

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