By: Andrea D. Miranda - student in the College of Journalism & Communications at the University of Florida
The 2016 primaries have been full of religious rhetoric, be it pandering to a specific religious group or promoting fear of another. With this being the case, it can be expected to play a big role in the presidential election.
The Republican Party is often conjured as being representative of the “Christian Right” while the Democrat Party is seen as being more secular than religious. The Democrat presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have made little to no remarks on their religious upbringing and it can be assumed that religion plays little to no role in the Democrat Party.
But does it? Is the Democrat Party as secular as it is portrayed to be?
As a young democrat myself, and member of the UF College Democrats I decided to further explore this idea by speaking to other members of the UF College Democrats. Since millennials are seen as a key demographic for the upcoming elections I believe that it is important to hear what they have to say.
Looking at the Democrat Party through polls one can definitely see why secularism is the first word that comes to mind when thinking about the Democrat Party. In a 2014 poll done by the Pew Research Center it showed that “none’s” made up the single majority of those who self-identified as Democrats. Most of those who identify as “none’s” are millennials.
When it comes to the presidential candidates they both have different ways to approach religion. Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders identifies as being Jewish but focuses on his idea of secularism. While Hillary Clinton identifies as a Methodist but has not made many comments about religion except when it comes to the persecution of Muslims in America.
Given this information I understand why many believe that the Democrat party has little to no relationship with religion. One could also say that the party is moving further away from religion and that is what the members of the Democrat Party want. This is due to the fast rate that those who identified as “none’s” have grown.
Previous to writing this article and speaking to other young democrat I also thought of the party as secular. It was once I started speaking with young democrats that I understood how diverse the party is and how religion does play a role in it, just not in an obvious way. Religion may not take center stage, but it is still an influential factor to voters from the Democratic party.
Each young Democrat I spoke with had their own views on the relationship between religion and the party. Many agreed with the idea of strict secularism. Jonathan Ortiz, co- chair for the labor caucus for UFCD, said he views the Democrat Party as respecting the “United States strong commitment to the separation of church and state.” Even so, there were others who provide a different perspective to the relationship.
One that caught my interest was Fahad Khan’s, Political Director for UFCD, who focused on the role religion had on the development of the Democrat Party.
Fahad believed that “the progressive movement has been inspired by religion, and religious values of community and collective welfare” which are an important platform of the Party. That being said most college Democrats believe that the Democrat Party is the party that welcomes all faiths and backgrounds without discrimination.
Since we are in the middle of the primaries I decided to ask young democrats whether religious affiliation impacts their decision on who they support for president. For most college Democrats religious affiliation had little to no effect on their decision.
Yet, Griffin Baker, Secretary for UFCD, said that although the religious affiliation of the current candidates had no influence on his decision he admitted that if one of the candidates had identified himself as a Secular Humanist he would be more likely to vote for them.
Another factor that plays an important role on whether young Democrats support a candidate or not is how they regard other religions besides their own. Bernie Sanders is a candidate that has been very vocal about his opposition to organized religion and this has turned some religious Democrats away.
Fahad explains that one of the main reasons why he is not voting for Bernie Sanders is not his religious affiliation, but his disregard for organized religions as a whole. It seems it is not about the religion the candidates practice, but how they perceive religion.
Lastly, I asked young democrats whether or not religion should play a bigger role in the Democrat Party. Some believe, such as Chloe Bennet, that the role of religion should stay the same, but that the Democrat Party should make a move to be more inclusive of religions.
Others said that the Democrat Party would benefit from having a stronger relationship with religion. Not only would it prove electorally beneficial to the party, but it would also be good for the party ideologically. Another point of view was the idea that the Democrat Party should make sure to strengthen the separation of state and church.
After listening to all of these responses I came to one conclusion: religion is not a priority for young democrats, inclusion is.
Young democrats want a party that is inclusive of all regardless of faith or background. Although they all have different opinions on the role religion should play in the party young democrats agreed that the Democrat Party must, before anything else, be inclusive of all its diverse members. Therefore presidential candidates should not disregard religion, but instead make it clear that the Democrat Party is the party for ALL, regardless of whether you are a devoted Muslim or an atheist.