“Just hours before voters in this state go to the polls, Rick Santorum said the separation of church and state in America has been ‘turned on its head.’
“‘You hear so much about separation of church and state. I’m for separation of church and state. The state has no business telling what the church to do,’ Santorum said at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, apparently referring to the requirement from the Obama administration that all institutions that provide health insurance, including Catholic hospitals, cover birth control and emergency contraception.
“‘But the separation of church and state that our founders believed in, which is what I just described, has now been turned on its head. And now it’s the church, people of faith who have no right to come to the public square and express their points of view, or practice their faith outside of their church,’ Santorum said.”
“It’s true that in his famous address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on Sept. 12, 1960, Kennedy stated his belief in an ‘absolute’ separation. But Santorum reads into that speech things that Kennedy did not actually say.
“Kennedy, who was then the Democratic nominee for president, was assuring Protestant ministers that he would not be taking orders from the Vatican should become the first Catholic to be elected to the White House…
“[N]one of the ministers asked Kennedy if he meant that ‘faith is not allowed in the public square’ or that he ‘won’t consult with people of faith,’ the assertions that Santorum now puts in Kennedy’s mouth. Kennedy didn’t say those things, and if any of the ministers who were present in 1960 thought that’s what he meant, none of them said so at the time.”
“If all he wanted to do was talk, we would say, Have at it — no matter how misguided we think he is on birth control and many other matters. But does Mr. Santorum really understand the difference between talking about a policy and imposing his views?
“When he so misreads Mr. Kennedy, when he perceives a war that does not exist, he shows a lack of appreciation for the First Amendment. When he accuses President Obama of harboring a ‘phony theology’ — ‘Not a theology based on Bible. A different theology’ — it seems he does not understand the line between policy and religion. Mr. Santorum later explained that he was not questioning Mr. Obama’s faith, only his environmental policy. But theology means ‘the study of God and of the relations between God, humankind and the universe.’
“That Mr. Santorum believes he has the standing to declaim on the rightness of Mr. Obama’s faith, and whether it is sufficiently Bible-based, is in itself disqualifying.”
“Gingrich, who converted to Catholicism when he married his third wife, has also lashed out against what he perceives as a war on religion by ‘the secular left.’
“‘The forces of the secular left believe passionately and deeply, and with frankly a religious fervor, in their world view and they will regard what I am saying as a horrifying assault on what they think is the truth,’ Gingrich said. ‘Because their version of the truth is to have a totally neutral government that has no meaning,’ said Gingrich in Georgia.
“Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, has accused Obama of having a ‘secular agenda.’
“‘You expect the president of the United States to be sensitive to that freedom and protect it and, unfortunately, perhaps because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda, they have fought against religion,’ Romney said, responding to a question at a town hall recently about religious freedoms, in particular the Obama administration’s recent controversial attempt to require all institutions, including hospitals and colleges with religious affiliations, to offer free birth control and other contraceptives.”
“Oddly, the assurances that Kennedy offered that day are ones that I would like to hear from Santorum. He, too, is a Catholic, although not of the Kennedy variety. Santorum is severe and unamusing about his faith, and that is his prerogative. But he has shoved his beliefs in our faces, leaving no doubt that his presidency would be informed by his extremely conservative Catholicism. Santorum’s views are too conservative even for most Catholics.
“This is a perilous and divisive approach. We have all of world history to warn us about what happens when religion takes too prominent a role. The public square gets used for beheadings and the like. While that is not likely to happen now — zoning rules and such forbid it — we do know that layering religion over politics is dangerous. Santorum cannot impose — and should not argue — that his political beliefs come from God. That closes all debate and often infuriates those who differ.
“This belief that religion has been banished from public discussion is a conservative trope without foundation. New York City is now recovering from a frenzy of celebratory publicity regarding the elevation of Timothy Dolan to cardinal. We have applauded the feats of Tim Tebow, the so-called praying quarterback, who seems unintimidated in publicly expressing his religious convictions. And, of course, we have the prattling of Newt Gingrich, who believes in belief and believes you and I ain’t got any — certainly not if we vote Democratic. As any European can attest, the American public square is soaked in religion or religion-speak.”
“One 50-year-old tea party supporter from Tucson pointed to Santorum’s response to the recent White House decision on whether religious-affiliated institutions should be mandated to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.
“‘In context, what [Santorum is] saying is that government needs to stay out of religion,’ said the man, who declined to give his name. ‘That’s all religion. That’s as bad as the government being in a mosque. It just so happens that right now [Obama has] got his fingers in Christianity. But it had nothing to do with the other way. From George Washington on, there was always prayer in Congress. But the government was supposed to stay out of religion. And that’s where Obama’s going.’
“Might Santorum’s focus on religion hurt him in the race? The tea party supporter said it depends on context.
“‘If people are here, like today, and get to hear it in context, I think they’re all straw dogs, because almost everything I’ve heard from the press is a twisting of what’s being said,’ he said.”
Via Greg Hengler.
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