GOP contender Rick Santorum stirred up another imbroglio over religion yesterday when he said on ABC’s This Week that he “almost threw up” (full interview here) when he read John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religion that said.
The passage in question:
We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.
Actually, that’s not the passage in question, because Kennedy didn’t say that. Ronald Reagan did, running for reelection in 1984. And only last week did Mr. Santorum actually compare himself to Ronald Reagan:
Rick Santorum deflected jabs about his 2008 speech saying that “Satan has set his sights on the United States” by comparing his comments to Ronald Reagan branding the Soviet Union an “evil empire.”
At a rally in Phoenix, the former Pennsylvania senator said that Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa had said that “yes there are there are forces of evil in the world. Walesa had wondered about the days when “America would stand up and call evil by its name,” the Daily Mail reports.
“Ronald Reagan did that. Ronald Reagan called the Soviet Union an evil empire and the media went ‘how dare you, how dare you’ ascribe terms like good and evil to regimes?”
“Because Ronald Reagan told the truth. He didn’t sugarcoat it. He went out and called it the way it was. He went out and promoted the values of our country.”
The Kennedy quote on which Santorum teed off:
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.
Santorum’s claim: With that statement, JFK effectively said, “faith is not allowed in the public square … I won’t consult with people of faith.” The key quote from Santorum:
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’s address –one of the most famous in presidential history– was made at a time when many Protestants thought JFK –then a presidential candidate, like Santorum– would be controlled by prelates from his church –which is the Roman Catholic church, like Santorum. (Read and hear the speech here.) Santorum charged that it was an extreme view when JFK merely said he be told how to act. But Kennedy said more than that:
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.
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; where 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.
For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew— or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.
Kennedy’s words are prescient. His words would likely be the kind of argument a Muslim presidential candidate would have to make, given the paranoia about that faith, mostly from the Christian right, now so zealously providing Santorum with his recent campaign surge.
Further, it is absolutely clear that Kennedy accepts “people of faith in the public square” –his goal is to make a place for people of every faith in our public life. Kennedy doesn’t even go as far as Ronald Reagan, who actually said the separation of church and state protects the right of non-believers, too.
Santorum also told “Meet The Press” host David Gregory that separation of church and state was “not the founders’ vision.”
Let’s take a look at the words of Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Fathers himself, author of the Declaration of Independence, third president of the United States, who coined the phrase “separation of church and state.”
I am for freedom of religion, & against all maneuvres to bring about a legal ascendancy of one sect over another. –Letter to Elbridge Gerry (1799)
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 legislative 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 and State. –Letter to Danbury Baptist Association, CT. (1 January 1802)
It’s from this letter that the term “separation of Church and State” derives.
Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law. –letter to Dr. Thomas Cooper, from Monticello, February 10, 1814.
Jefferson wrote extensively on this subject, and his letters are extremely well documented and commented upon. Mr. Santorum may have his arguments, but the historical evidence suggests that they aren’t intelligently designed, and they don’t evolve.