The Republican Party purports to be the party of religion, and it has secured the lion’s share of the religious vote in Presidential elections. Indeed, Trump received 56% of the weekly churchgoing vote; Clinton received only 40%.
But the picture from the perspective of the Democrats is not altogether bleak. The Democrats easily win the votes of Jews and other non-Christian faiths. And Gore, Kerry, and Obama won the Catholic vote. Mainline Protestant also tend to lean Democratic. Democrats typically win 20% of the White evangelical vote, and, of course, they win the vote of Black church members (typically evangelical) by overwhelming margins. See generally here and here.
Still Republicans have the Religion image. The Republicans have that image in part because they are seen as the party of religious freedom, because they wear their religion on their sleeve, and because it is well known that atheists and agnostics vote Democratic. Nonetheless, the Democrats cannot let the Republican’s religious image go unchallenged. Almost 90% of Americans believe in God. here. The failure to respect that is bad politics. Indeed, in the current context, it is downright foolish.
The Pledge of Allegiance states that we are a nation under God. Some fifty years ago, Robert Bellah maintained that it was a part of the American civil religion that the country was under God in the sense that it was under the judgment of God. “Civil Religion in America,” 96 Daedalus 1, at 1-21 (Winter, 1967). In short, the country is to be judged by moral standards.
Only a fool would fail to realize how embarrassing that should be to a Republican Party led by a moral leper. The litany of his tolerated moral outrages is exceedingly long and his fellow Republicans in the House and Senate have for the most part shown themselves to be corrupt accomplices or, at least, have offered up themselves as profiles in cowardice. They too have displayed a staggering lack of concern for the people they are supposed to serve. How does the Party of Religion justify trying to take away the insurance of many millions to give more money to the rich? It turns out that the Party of Religion is the Party of Social Darwinism. The Republicans apparently do not think that the people deserve insurance.
This is tied to another great issue connected to religion, namely abortion. The Democrats, of course, must continue to support Roe v. Wade. But they need to stress that the Republican opposition to programs for health care, food, clothing, and housing encourages abortions. Women facing the prospect of bringing a child into the world who will suffer significant material deprivation may well turn to abortions. It has been said many times, but it is no less true. The Republicans care about “babies” until they are born. The Democrats need to make clear that even if Roe is overturned, abortions will be legal in much of the country. And even where it is illegal, unsafe back alley abortions will emerge yet again. Bill Clinton got it right when he argued that abortions should be safe, legal, and rare.
Finally, Democrats should not oppose religious freedom restoration acts. They should insist under those acts that freedom of conscience should be respected whether or not the source of conscience is traditionally religious. And they should insist that a religious freedom restoration act does not license denial of service or employment to those protected under civil rights laws including members of the LGBT community. But the Democratic Party would honor the Constitution and its commitment to justice if it made clear that it was strongly committed to freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.