Jonathan Engel, J.D. is the President of the Secular Humanist Society of New York. Here we talk about the National Democratic Convention.
*Interview conducted on August 24, 2020.*
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: So, it’s hot over there. It’s rainy and muggy over here, hence the British part. There was the Democratic National Convention, recently. You noticed something a lot of other people didn’t notice. Let’s start in brief. What was the thing that you noticed? What was the importance of this Democratic National Convention?
Jonathan Engel: As a secular person, I noticed. On the positive side, the Democratic platform includes a plank on freedom of religion that mentions the freedom to be non-religious, which is a great step forward. But the problem was, nobody reads the platform, but they do tune in to the convention. There are some who I know are secular and are featured speakers like Bernie Sanders, but they do not talk about secularism. It’s only in the platform. On the fourth night, the night Biden gave a speech, which I thought was pretty good.
Overall, I thought the convention went pretty well. I have been a democrat for many, man years. To say, ‘It went pretty well,’ means it wasn’t a total disaster [Laughing].
Engel: But there was a lot of talk about Biden’s “faith.” Why they don’t talk about religion? I don’t know. The word “faith” is interesting. What does it actually mean? That’s an interesting question. They were talking a lot about faith. As a quick aside, I think a lot of the talk using the word faith came in during the second Bush Administration, George W. Bush. It started as an office of faith based initiatives in the administration, in the White House. I remember thinking, “If he had called it an office of religion-based initiatives, people would say, ‘No, you can’t do that.’ So, they call it: ‘Faith.’” What does the word “faith’ mean at that point?
In any event, on the fourth night, last night, they had a nun, a Catholic un, giving a benediction talking about religion, God, and Jesus. I am sitting there saying to myself, “You belong to an organization that covered up tens of thousands of instances of child abuse. You didn’t resign from that organization. Why are you being given a respected slot in the Democratic National Convention?” To me, if I was a member of an organization where the higher-ups covered up child abuse, I’d quit. In any event, we had senator Chris Coons, who I know is very religious because I have heard him speak before, talking about Biden being a man of faith, etc.
Again, I am not sure exactly what that means. I was turned off by it. I flipped on the basketball game, actually, at the time, because I don’t want to listen to this anymore. The Democratic Party, it is not like I am going to become a Republican or anything. Republicans would be happy to put somebody like me in concentration camps, “Move over immigrant children, and bring in the heathens.” It is not like I have anywhere else to go. I feel the progress has been made in the Democratic Party a little bit. But again, the platform being the evidence of that and the webinar from the secular democrats being part of that.
But when it comes to the big events, they are still squeamish about us. I think that hurts our attempt to be seen and heard in the greater community because here is a place; they would never say anything that that thought was even inadvertently offensive to many of the constituent groups of the Democratic Party, e.g., women, blacks, Latinx people, the LGBTQ community, but they feel comfortable saying things that are somewhat offensive to their secular part of their constituency.
That was problematic for me. Again, I support Biden and Harris. I actually like them both. But I don’t want to be ignored; I would like to get a little respect.
Jacobsen: Something as well, you pointed out something about the United States Constitution. You are a trained lawyer. You do have a J.D., a juris doctor.
Engel: I do. A few weeks ago, Trump, who will say anything [Laughing], was attacking Biden and said, “Biden is anti-God, anti-religion, and anti-Bible.” When democrats responded pretty uniformly, it was by pointing out Biden is a regular Catholic who goes to church. So, it’s not true. What I didn’t here democrats say, except for me, and my platform is pretty limited, “Article VI, Paragraph 3 of he Constitution says, ‘There shall never be any religious test for any office or trust under the United States.’ That’s in the Constitution. It was put there for a reason.
There was a perfect time to say that. It was a perfect time to say, “Look, he is wrong on the facts. Joe is religious. But it really doesn’t matter. Look at the Constitution.” It is a perfect teachable moment. I can tell you. I strongly doubt that there are many Americans who know about that provision in the Constitution. It was a time to say, “Hey, there is no religious test.” That is what the Founding Fathers put on the founding document. So, it doesn’t matter what Joe’s beliefs are. I didn’t here that. It was also disappointing to me. It was a great opportunity to teach people about the Constitution. You have so many people who think that this country was founded as a Christian religious nation, when it was clearly not. It was a great opportunity, in my view, missed to educate the general public about true freedom of religion from the Constitution. If freedom of religion doesn’t include the right to be free from religion, then it’s really pretty much worthless.
Jacobsen: Jon! Thank you for your time.
Engel: Oh, it’s my pleasure, Scott, as always. You take care of yourself.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
*Associates and resources listing last updated May 31, 2020.*
Canadian Atheist Associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, Centre for Inquiry Canada, Kelowna Atheists, Skeptics, and Humanists Association.
Other National/Local Resources: Association humaniste du Québec, Atheist Freethinkers, Central Ontario Humanist Association, Comox Valley Humanists, Grey Bruce Humanists, Halton-Peel Humanist Community, Hamilton Humanists, Humanist Association of London, Humanist Association of Ottawa, Humanist Association of Toronto, Humanists, Atheists and Agnostics of Manitoba, Ontario Humanist Society, Secular Connextions Seculaire, Secular Humanists in Calgary, Society of Free Thinkers (Kitchener-Waterloo/Cambridge/Guelph), Thunder Bay Humanists, Toronto Oasis, Victoria Secular Humanist Association.
Other International/Outside Canada Resources: Allianz vun Humanisten, Atheisten an Agnostiker, American Atheists, American Humanist Association, Associação Brasileira de Ateus e AgnósticoséééBrazilian Association of Atheists and Agnostics, Atheist Alliance International, Atheist Alliance of America, Atheist Centre, Atheist Foundation of Australia, The Brights Movement, Center for Inquiry (including Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science), Atheist Ireland, Camp Quest, Inc., Council for Secular Humanism, De Vrije Gedachte, European Humanist Federation, Federation of Indian Rationalist Associations, Foundation Beyond Belief, Freedom From Religion Foundation, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist International, Humanist Association of Germany, Humanist Association of Ireland, Humanist Society of Scotland, Humanists UK, Humanisterna/Humanists Sweden, Internet Infidels, International League of Non-Religious and Atheists, James Randi Educational Foundation, League of Militant Atheists, Military Association of Atheists and Freethinkers, National Secular Society, Rationalist International, Recovering From Religion, Religion News Service, Secular Coalition for America, Secular Student Alliance, The Clergy Project, The Rational Response Squad, The Satanic Temple, The Sunday Assembly, United Coalition of Reason, Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics.
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