Washington Wednesday – Democrats nix religion as a civil right

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Wednesday the 19th of August, 2020. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: a virtual campaign stop.

As you’ve just heard, Democrats are meeting this week for their annual convention. It’s mostly virtual for the first time in history. A few of the speakers are on site in Milwaukee, but most are joining by video.

None of the delegates are on-site either. But that hasn’t stopped them from taking care of party business. Top of that list is making Joe Biden’s nomination official. But they also have a few more mundane tasks, like approving changes to the party platform.

REICHARD: Much of that platform remains the same as it was four years ago. But there are some notable, albeit subtle, changes.

Well it’s Washington Wednesday, and joining us now to talk about what’s happening in Milwaukee is Jamie Dean. She’s WORLD’s national editor and chief political correspondent. Good morning, Jamie!

JAMIE DEAN, REPORTER: Good morning, Mary.

REICHARD: Jamie, this is the first nominating convention you’ve missed in quite a while, isn’t it?

DEAN: It is. I’ve been to every Democratic and Republican national convention since 2008. So it feels a little strange to watch all of this unfolding from afar.

REICHARD: Political conventions have changed a lot over the years—do you think this year’s virtual experiment will bring more permanent changes in the years to come?

DEAN: I think it’s unlikely that either party is going to decide to conduct its business completely remotely once the pandemic has passed. I think we’ll still see in-person conventions.

The question might be: On what scale? These events are massive undertakings, and they’re very expensive: In 2016, the estimated cost for the Democratic National Convention was about $127 million—and that’s for a roughly four-day event.

So I think it will be worth watching to see whether the parties decide they can have robust conventions that create energy among at least some of their supporters, without quite as much expense. But they might be so excited to get back together in four years, that they go right back to these lavish get-togethers. So, we’ll just have to wait and see.

REICHARD: Speaking of changes, the Democratic Party has released a draft of the party’s platform, and it sounds like it had some notable changes tucked inside.

DEAN: There are some notable changes. The platform process itself was quite different this year because of the pandemic: The platform committee approved new language last month, and then the delegates voted on the platform remotely. So it’s likely the draft language will be the final language by the end of this week.

REICHARD: What were some of the most notable changes?

DEAN: Well, it’s an 80-page document that covers all sorts of things, but I was particularly interested in the section on civil rights.

In 2016, the platform language said, quote, “Democrats will always fight discrimination on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, language, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability.” End quote.

The platform language this year is nearly identical, but with one very notable omission: religion. Democrats have dropped religion as one of the categories considered worthy of protection, when it comes to civil rights and discrimination.

That’s a significant change. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 specifically mentions religion as one of the categories that must be considered when protecting Americans from discrimination.

So it’s quite notable to see Democrats quietly remove that from their platform.

REICHARD: Does the platform mention anything else about religion?

DEAN: Well, it talks about faith in a couple of places, and there are some interesting changes on that front too. And I think those changes relate to the altered language on civil rights.

There’s a section of the platform about faith and service. In 2016, that section had broad, generally positive language about how faith enriches communities. It said, quote, “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.” End quote.

This year, that section has a very different feel. For example, it recognizes the contributions of faith communities, but it also talks about, quote, “the paramount importance of maintaining the separation between church and state enshrined in our Constitution.” End quote.

And then it goes on to specifically target certain religious protections. It says, quote, “We will reject the Trump Administration’s use of broad religious exemptions to allow businesses, medical providers, social service agencies, and others to discriminate.” End quote.

It doesn’t get into specifics, but one could assume that language is talking about things like conscience protections when it comes to medical workers and abortion or Christian adoption agencies and gay adoption.

So this section becomes more about what Democrats are against when it comes to certain facets of religious practice than what they are for. And it does seem like a pretty clear shot across the bow for religious Americans who find those kinds of protections important.

REICHARD: What effect do you think this could have on Joe Biden’s campaign for the presidency?

DEAN: That might depend on how much attention these changes get. The Biden campaign has hired staffers to reach out to religious voters, including a staffer who’s reaching out to evangelicals. So it will be interesting to see how they respond to questions about what should happen when religious Americans have sincerely-held beliefs that conflict with evolving government mandates. What is the place for religious freedom in those situations?

RECIHARD: So it’s worth pointing out that the Democratic platform isn’t a Biden campaign document.

DEAN: That’s right, Biden doesn’t have to adopt any of the positions outlined in the party’s platform. But many of the positions do track with what Biden has advocated so far, and nominees do tend to generally agree with their parties’ formal statements.

RECIHARD: What about Republicans? Should we expect any changes to their platform this year?

DEAN: No, we shouldn’t. Because of the pandemic, and all the changes to how delegates are voting this year, Republicans have decided simply to adopt their 2016 platform again. So no changes there.

REICHARD: How much do you think the conventions will matter to the decision-making process of the average American voter?

DEAN: The conventions probably won’t play a major role in swaying large chunks of voters one way or the other. Voters will probably start paying more attention in general to the elections now that we’re less than three months away.

I think the next big event that could make a significant difference will be the presidential debates. The first debate is scheduled for September 29th. And given the lack of traditional campaigning during the pandemic this year, I expect the debates will draw a substantial number of Americans interested in seeing the two candidates go head-to-head in these more unscripted moments. So we have a lot of road left ahead.

REICHARD:  Jamie Dean is WORLD’s national editor. Thanks so much, Jamie. 

DEAN: You’re welcome.

(Brian Snyder/Pool via AP) Convention Co-Chair and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett, right, opens the second night of the virtual 2020 Democratic National Convention, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020, in Milwaukee, Wisc., as a video of Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden is shown on the monitor, left. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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5 comments on Washington Wednesday – Democrats nix religion as a civil right

  1. Jason says:

    The early draft of the 2020 platform did not include the word “religion” in the paragraph referenced in this interview, but the final draft currently available on the Democratic Convention website does include the word “religion” in the noted paragraph. It is interesting that it may have been removed to begin with, but notable also that they put it back in.

  2. Jonathan Keener says:

    I was disturbed that the Democratic platform removed the projected status of religion. I had to look for myself, though, and the platform DOES include religion on the list. What was the source indicating it was removed?

  3. Becca Dressler says:

    Where is the proof of this? I agree with you but my friends do not. Could you send a link to the revised democratic platform? Thanks!

  4. Joe says:

    Religion is still in the platform as a protected right.. Fyi. Headline = wrong.

  5. TJ B says:

    Hi Mary, Nick & Jamie,
    I searched the DNC Party Platform document .pdf which allowed me to search “fight discrimination basis” and that phrase did appear on page 16 in the civil rights context and it did include “religion”.
    So it does look like they left “religion” in that part of their platform.
    Their platform also does state quite a bit about religion, and does state a church and state separation.
    – TJB in NM

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