The recent history of American secularization. From the early 1960s to 1994, most liberals have believed in what I call strong secularism, which is both cultural and political. In this strong secularism, religion is supposed to play a small or nonexistent role in public life, while the government is required to uphold strong church-state separation. As Wolfe points out, liberals during this period found their views on religion in cultural life ratified and reinforced by the kinds of decisions the Supreme Court was making on things like prayer in school and (especially) abortion.
What does secularism mean in the era of Promise Keepers and Christian Rock? But strong secularism was dealt a severe blow in 1994, with the Republican revolution. For a number of reasons, liberal democrats are being forced to admit that cultural secularism has become a minority position. But secularism as a legal and judicial concept has remained very much in place. The Republicans have exploited the gap between the two concepts of secularism to great advantage, in part by blurring the line between them. The Democrats' failure to win the God vote perhaps has something to do with their failure to soften strong secularism.
The Democrats' own litmus test. The Democrats have also sometimes made poor decisions on how to respond. For instance, Republicans are often accused of having a 'litmus test' on issues like gun control and abortion. But, as Wolfe points out, the Democrats have had one too:
This secularism achieved the height of its influence within the Democratic Party at its 1996 national convention when Pennsylvania governor Robert Casey was denied a speaking role. There is some dispute about why; many conservatives say it was because his opposition to abortion made him persona non grata within the party, while others point out that he was refused a speaking role because he would not endorse the party's platform. But under either interpretation, the Democratic Party managed to marginalize the Democratic governor of a key swing state because it had made support for abortion a litmus test of party leadership. Believers who might not share the religious right's agenda, but who also worried on religious grounds that the act of abortion really did involve taking away a human life, were told that they ought to look elsewhere for a party to join.
While I agree that the Democrats made a mistake about Robert Casey, I'm skeptical about where Wolfe is going here. Should the Democrats become more receptive to pro-life members? Should it reward the conservative Democrats the way the Republicans have been rewarding high profile liberal/moderate Republicans like Schwarzenegger, Giulani, etc.?
My instinctual answer is, yes, they should. But who and where are they? And: what is the line between flexibility and hypocrisy?