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Is Rick Santorum running against JFK?

 |  NCR Today

Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum seems to be running against former President John F. Kennedy rather than Mitt Romney. But he is so off-base in his critique of Kennedy's remarks on separation of church and state that it takes your breath away. Check out Santorum's comment to George Stephanopoulos on ABC's "This Week":t

I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country. Kennedy for the first time, articulated a vision that said, "No, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate." Go out and read the speech. "I will have nothing to do with faith. I won't consult with people of faith." It was an absolutist doctrine that was foreign at the time of 1960.

To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up. What kind of country do we live in where only people of non-faith can come in the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up. And that should make every American [throw up].

Just one thing: Santorum is wrong on all counts. His is a gross misreading of our history and of JFK's message. He does not understand even the basics of what "separation of church and state" means.

Separation of church and state has nothing to do with keeping religious bodies or people of faith from seeking influence in the public square. Religious groups and individuals can and do lobby for legislation, demonstrate in the streets for justice (remember Martin Luther King Jr.? Rev. Dan Berrigan?), testify before Congress and generally try to influence public opinion. Some are very influential -- check out the Jewish groups that lobby on behalf of Israel. Many religious groups employ full-time lobbyists to exercise influence in the policies of the state. They are everywhere in the public square. Santorum is just plain wrong.
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Second, Kennedy never said faith was not "allowed" in the public square or that only people "of non-faith" could have influence. He simply made the case that religion could not control the public square -- which it should not in our system. Faced with concerned Protestants who were wary of his Catholic faith and thought he might take orders from the pope when he was president, JFK gave a speech to the Houston Ministerial Association, and said this:

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I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish – where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source -- no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials -- and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.

"Imposing one's will" is not the same as "trying to influence" legislation, etc. The latter is something everyone has a right to do in our society. "Imposition" is not. Does Santorum want a religious body, like the Catholic bishops, to run the country? If so, he belongs in pre-Enlightenment Europe, not the United States.

Finally, JFK's message was not new with him. Check out Thomas Jefferson and James Madison:

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof, thus building a wall of separation between church and state."
~ Thomas Jefferson (referring to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution)

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe with blood for centuries."
~ James Madison

Santorum needs to go back and study both American history and basic constitutional law.

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April 11-24, 2014

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