I wish I could say that the latest bit of Chicken Little Santorum hysteria in the media was amusing, but instead I find it to be another example of the stunning lack of intellectual inquiry by the “guardians of the record” when they have enough to cobble together something commensurate with the narrative they so desperately want to tell. When you add to the formula otherwise intelligent people who are hellbent on not recognizing simple truths, then the agenda becomes toxic.
I woke this morning to headlines stating that Senator Santorum doesn’t believe in the separation of church and state, which of course feeds into the trumped-up paranoia about his obvious desire to bring about a theocracy here on our shores. This can only confirm the worst fears of organizations like Klanned Parenthood, which is fervently pointing to conservatives like Santorum as evidence of a non-existent “War on Women” that is being waged from one end of the country to another. And because the fourth estate can make this the headline, rather than the historical and unprecedented failures of the guy currently putting his feet on the Resolute Desk, the narrative is doubly served: Reinforce the myth that religion, specifically Christianity, was not central and formative to the men who declared us a nation, and formed the Republic, and deflect the well-deserved scrutiny and criticism away from President Downgrade.
However, the truth is a bit more complex than that, which should not be a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention, and the Senator’s full remarks displayed a greater understanding than his questioner, Democrat operative and pretend journalist George Stephanopoulos, wanted people to grasp. First, the full exchange regarding John F. Kennedy’s Church and State Speech:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You have also spoken out about the issue of religion in politics, and early in the campaign, you talked about John F. Kennedy’s famous speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston back in 1960. Here is what you had to say.
SANTORUM: Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, “I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” 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.
This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate. Go on 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 abhorrent (ph) at the time of 1960. And I went down to Houston, Texas 50 years almost to the day, and gave a speech and talked about how important it is for everybody to feel welcome in the public square. People of faith, people of no faith, and be able to bring their ideas, to bring their passions into the public square and have it out. James Madison—
SANTORUM: — the perfect remedy. Well, yes, absolutely, to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. 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 and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.
Now, to begin with, Kennedy was trying to address a different brand of religious bigotry at the time he made the speech Santorum was talking about. In 1960, we had never had a President who had been Catholic, and there was, predictably, some concern regarding how he would govern as President (Mitt Romney, you have a call on the white courtesy phone). And Kennedy recognized this in the body of the speech that Senator Santorum was talking about:
While the so-called religious issue is necessarily and properly the chief topic here tonight, I want to emphasize from the outset that I believe that we have far more critical issues in the 1960 campaign; the spread of Communist influence, until it now festers only 90 miles from the coast of Florida — the humiliating treatment of our President and Vice President by those who no longer respect our power — the hungry children I saw in West Virginia, the old people who cannot pay their doctors bills, the families forced to give up their farms — an America with too many slums, with too few schools, and too late to the moon and outer space. These are the real issues which should decide this campaign. And they are not religious issues — for war and hunger and ignorance and despair know no religious barrier.
But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.
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 accept 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 led 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 apart at a time of great national peril.
Kennedy, then, much like Santorum now, was faced with questions that focused not on the issues he came to address, but on his character, and how some believed it threatened the integrity of the Republic. That said, while he qualified the premise that he set forth, that is that the “separation between church and state should be absolute”, he went on to tell us what that meant, and in his day and age, the militant atheist movement had not yet coalesced into the movement that today expends so much effort to remove the influence of religion (specifically Christianity) from any discussion regarding government, on the basis of that deliberately misconstrued phrase that has no home in the Constitution. Yet this is the phrase seized on by those in today’s society who are determined to ignore the fact that the current understanding would have been completely foreign to those who argued the contents of the Constitution and who signed the finished product, let alone the man who wrote it so long ago to a Christian sect complaining of the favor given to another sect by the state, to their detriment.
But then, there is little reason to believe that then Senator Kennedy would object to a town council opening a meeting with a prayer, when Congress had been doing it pretty much from inception. Or that posting the Ten Commandments in a courthouse would so violate this concept of separation when it is part of the building that houses the Supreme Court. Or that a prayer at a high school football game is contrary to the principle, when Washington and Madison declared days of prayer and thanksgiving when President. Or that it should be impermissible to let a church meet in a public school building when the author of the storied phrase himself attended Sunday worship services on a regular basis in the US Capitol with members of Congress during his Presidency.
The fact is that Senator Santorum was correct. The application of this “wall of separation between church and state” has far advanced any discernible original meaning, and now is a means to delegitimize an entire viewpoint by people who fail to understand that excluding and marginalizing it from the national dialogue has not resulted in a healthier society, but one in which we enjoy fewer freedoms than our parents and grandparents, because of the attempt to replace the restraint and prudence that too many today eschew for instant gratification and selfish pursuits. It is a world where people who can ill-afford them will riot over new tennis shoes, and violence and hypersexualized predators stalk our children wherever they can be found.
Santorum’s crime is not that he tries to “impose” his views on anyone. It is that he tries to reinject a voice that itching ears do not want to heed and consider. I’m sure I could find legitimate reasons for not liking him, and I much prefer that idea than disliking him for being right without understanding that I’m being fed a line by a media that has its own story to tell, and hopes that I’ll be too lazy to suss out the truth.