Things can get needlessly complicated and unnecessarily controversial when the wrong word is used.
Tonight the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics have signed up to be at the official speaker's platform of the Democratic national Convention to talk about the importance of the separation of church and state, a concept that I can tell you from experience befuddles Democrats as well as Republicans. The CAA will be speaking from 6:00 to 6:30, and should be supported and congratulated for their efforts.
The controversy started when the American Atheists decided to support the event through an event posting on Facebook entitled "Protest at the Democratic National Convention" with the following description:
Join the Charlotte Atheists and Agnostics (CAA), an American Atheists affiliate, during the Democratic National Convention as they speak out for the separation of church and state in our government.
The protest will be held September 4, 2012, from 6:00 p.m. - 6:30 p.m. at the Speakers Platform on the corner of Stonewall Street and Caldwell Street in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The protest will include speakers from the CAA discussing the necessity of the separation of religion and government in the United States.
This event is centered around the need for separation of religion and government. There is a need, even at the DNC, to make our voices heard in opposition to the overwhelming influence of religion in our political system.
Almost immediately comments on the event questioned the idea of protesting the DNC given that no protests of a similar nature occurred at the RNC and that the Republican Party, the party of the religious right and the war on women, has been much more egregious in their war on secularism. If anyone doubts this, please go back and listen to Marco Rubio's RNC introduction of Mitt Romney.
Mary Snow, who organized the event for the CAA, had this to say:
If nontheist groups in the Tampa area had organized an event, I'm sure AA would have attended that as well. Please don't blame AA simply because they're showing their support for our (CAA's) activities. They're not coordinating anything in favor of or against any party. Separation of church & state is not a party issue; religious activism is rampant in both parties. This event is not a protest. Demonstrating _for_ a cause (church/state separation) is not the same as protesting _against_ the party that happens to be in Charlotte for their convention. You can be sure that if the GOP had selected Charlotte, we'd be doing the same thing.
Hemant Mehta, The Friendly Atheist, picked up on the American Atheists event and gave the event more press. Mehta's analysis of the CAA's goals was pretty spot on given the misleading title given to the event by the American Atheists, a confirmed by Shawn Murphy, the president of the group in the first comment:
I appreciate the American Atheists and the great work they do at the national level. I also appreciate that they are promoting our event today. However, their choice to promote it as a protest is causing quite a bit of confusion. Our plan today is a _demonstration for_ separation of government and religion, not a _protest against_ the DNC. CAA is a non-partisan organization. As such, we are not, as an organization, choosing sides in this or any election cycle.
I think this rally is a terrific idea. The public needs to hear from people and groups that value the concept of separation of church and state. Just because the Democrats are slightly, or even a lot better than the Republicans on this issue that doesn't mean they are perfect. They still need to be reminded that at least some of their potential voters care about this issue.