In 1960, John F. Kennedy addressed Protestant concerns that he might try to direct American policies in the interests of the Catholic church:
“I am wholly opposed to the state being used by any religious group, Catholic or Protestant, to compel, prohibit, or persecute the free exercise of any other religion...”
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the president who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.”
Last fall, Rick Santorum said this made him want to throw up, and this past week, he confirmed his remarks.
Santorum is either incapable of reading comprehension, or a truth-challenged politician angling for a particular demographic. He distorts JFKs words, which are unambiguous, doubling down this week with this comment:
“What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up.”
Did JFK say “only people of non-faith can come into the public square” as Santorum claims? On the contrary.
Acknowledging that he was a person of faith in a very public square, JFK said, “I am not the Catholic candidate for President, I am the Democractic party's candidate for President who happens to be Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters, and the Church does not speak for me.”
JFK speech was clearly about freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. In a sectarian nation, this remains important.
Even today, there are no religious majorities in this country.
We are 26% Evangelical, 22% Roman Catholic, and 16% Mainline Protestant. The other 40% are none of these. Among Protestants, 25% of the US population is Baptist, 9% Pentecostal, 5% Lutheran, 4% Presbyterian, 4% Methodist, and 1.5% each of Anglican, Adventist, and Holiness. We are 1% Muslim. By comparison, 9% of us don't believe in any kind of god, and 15% claim no religion at all.
To appeal to “conservatives”, Santorum—like Palin before him—insists the Founding Fathers established a Christian nation. He may not realize the phrase "under God" was only added to the pledge in 1954. (Perhaps it's no coincidence this is the decade that informs his wardrobe.)
Santorum claims, “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.”
But the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, a treaty with Muslims with its English text ratified by Congress, states that the United States was "not in any sense founded on the Christian religion". This treaty was written and signed less than 20 years after the Declaration of Independence, during the presidencies of Founding Fathers George Washington and John Adams.
In fact, the words Jesus Christ, Christianity, Bible, Creator, Divine, or God are not once mentioned in the Constitution. The only mentions of religion in the Constitution at all are in exclusionary terms:
"no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."
This is almost word for word what JFK said. I imagine Santorum feeling queasy as he reads those constitutional lines, wondering what other litmus tests might be left for him for appointments to the Supreme Court.
Meanwhile, American politics has enough work to do without dragging religious differences into Congress. From the national creed, adopted by Congress in 1918:
“I believe in the United States of America, as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed; a democracy in a republic; a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes.”
“I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”
Imagine if Congress spent as much debate on Equality and Humanity as on hearings against contraception.
James Madison, writing in the 1780s, wanted the government to stay focused on its Civil authority, and religion on religion, to avoid conflict on "unessential" points. Madison viewed the government's only role in religion as keeping sects from imposing their views on others.
"It may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation between the rights of religion and the Civil authority with such distinctness as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points. The tendency to unsurpastion on one side or the other, or to a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government from interfence in any way whatsoever, beyond the necessity of preserving public order, and protecting each sect against trespasses on its legal rights by others."
Madison penned a sobering reminder of what happens if Church gains the upper hand in State, in contrast to a "just government" upholding public liberty.
"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
Each time we allow the government to form policy, or even frame discussion, based on sectarian doctrine, we tear down the "wall of separation between church and state," as described in Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802, on government coming between each man and his God:
"Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, 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 prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between Church & State."
Do Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, our Constitution, and "the whole American people" make Mr. Santorum sick too?