This year’s controversy over the inclusion of God in a Democratic platform is not unprecedented. In 1992, the Democratic party pointedly rejected an effort by Senator Joseph Lieberman to include a reference to God in the platform. As a sop to Lieberman, language was included noting that Americans have a personal responsibility “for the religious faiths they follow.” That move may be the origin of the faith references Dems have pointed to this year when challenged on the issue of God in the platform.
While a spokesman for Lieberman allowed in 1992 that the senator was “satisfied” with the addition of the new faith language instead of a direct invocation of God, the same spokesman bitingly added that “many Democrats almost seem embarrassed to make reference to God” and further noted that the 1992 platform’s approach to religion had made “a broad break from the past.” Forrest McDonald, a historian of American politics, said at the time, “I think the Democrats are crazy for taking [the word God] out. This is a very religious country.”
Even in 1988, the Republican platform mentioned the American people’s “faith in God,” while the Democratic platform merely spoke instead of America as a “spiritually stronger” nation.
You can find a brief account of the 1992 controversy over the Democratic platform’s rejection of God in the July 4, 1992 edition of The Washington Times (available via Nexis).
#more#It’s true that until this evening’s contested vote, the 2012 Democratic platform had made a shift from previous usage in omitting any reference to God. Yet the reference to God in the previous platform was more of an aside than the sort of deliberate invocation Senator Lieberman had asked for in 1992.
The point is that, while the Democrats are apparently growing more secular all the time, the process has been going on for years.
The best treatment of this issue is a 2002 article by Gerald De Maio and Louis Henri Bolce III, “Our Secularist Democratic Party.” De Maio and Bolce show that secularists first emerged as a major force within the Democratic party at the 1972 convention. Those secularists were the key supporters of emerging positions of the social Left on issues like abortion, sexuality, and the family. The emergence of the “culture wars,” Bolce and De Maio show, weren’t caused by a growing influence of religious voters on Republicans (as in the mainstream-media narrative). Instead, the culture wars were set off by the rise of secularism among the Democrats. Bolce and De Maio explore the extensive survey evidence of hostility toward religious believers held by secularists, and suggest that the media’s reluctance to point out the impact of heavily secularist base voters on the Democratic party (as opposed to the influence of religious voters on Republicans) is largely a matter of self-serving bias.
The fact that this Democratic convention has been more left-leaning on social issues than any previous Democratic gathering helps make sense of the related controversy over the inclusion of God in the platform. Bolce and De Maio show that this progression is in no way surprising. Yet it is a progression, an intensification of a rising strain of secularism within the Democratic-party base that the media has been consistently reluctant to discuss.