Standing Outside the Tent

Political parties exist to help provide a framework for policy advocacy and subsequent development of legislation. Many Americans, whether Libertarian, Republican, Democrat, Green or any other party affiliation likely believe that their respective party’s platform represents their views and they, in turn, can approach friends, relatives, and legislators to advocate for those views. But what happens if a political party’s views exclude the very individuals who would otherwise advocate for the platform?

The state Democratic and Republican parties in Texas recently released their party platforms for the 2012 election year. As expected, there are many differences of opinion between the two parties about the size and scope of government, the rights of individuals, the use of social programs, and education standards. They are the same differences that could undoubtedly be found on the national party platforms. What is interesting is the explicit presence of religion in the Texas Republican party platform.

In the 22-page document , “God” is mentioned 12 times. The Texas State Democratic Party platform – 41 pages, if you’re keeping score at home – mentions “God” once. While it might fit neatly into the opposing party’s platform, would anyone really think that the relative absence of the word “God” in the Texas Democratic Party platform suggests that an entire party is without faith?

Ultimately, however, this isn’t an issue of quantity. The Texas Republican Party platform’s explicit use of religion could run counter to their ability to find viable candidates for public office. What if there is a candidate for the Texas House who is Hindu? Or Muslim? The platform makes several mentions of America being founded on Judeo-Christian principles. Can a Hindu in San Antonio who might otherwise firmly believe that border security is essential to national security and that welfare should be reformed still be allowed to run as a Republican? Can a Muslim in Houston who thinks the Transportation Safety Administration should be abolished because he is tired of being harassed at airport checkpoints find safe harbor in the Grand Old Party? What about an Atheist in Dallas who believes that less government regulation will help her small business grow? The party platform would suggest the answer is “no”.

Political parties should be defined by the map they draw for the country or, in this case, a state. By excluding people of minority faiths or no faith, they are limiting the possible number of true believers to represent the party’s economic and social agenda. Democrats often tout their “big tent” approach to politics, and that comes with its own challenges in forming a coherent message. It likely goes a good way to explaining why their platform is nearly twice as long. Nevertheless, by remaining a faith-neutral platform, they invite the ideas of any number of believers and non-believers to develop their map for Texas and to represent that agenda in the state capitol. If the Texas Republican Party insists on making religion a defining feature of their platform, they run the risk of leaving many outside of their tent.

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