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Rick Santorum Challenges John F. Kennedy's Secular Promise

Thursday, 05 January 2012 06:59 By Mike Ludwig, Truthout | Report
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When it comes to the separation of church and state, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum says John F. Kennedy got it all wrong.

When Kennedy was running for president in 1960, some voters worried that the Vatican could soon be running America. Anti-Catholic paranoia has thankfully cooled off since, and now Santorum is facing a much different playing field. While Catholics themselves may not be flocking to support him, Santorum's traditional Catholic values - and willingness to act on them politically - inspire the evangelical Christians that the broader GOP takes for granted.

Santorum is hard-line pro-life, anti-gay rights and, if some of his most infamous public statements are any evidence, straight up anti-gay people. He also supported a state's right to ban contraception in a recent interview.

If this sounds eerily like the crack of a ruler on the back of your hand, it's because Santorum is not shy about taking his political marching orders directly from the Almighty. 

In 1960, Kennedy delivered his historic speech on the separation of church and state to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association at the University of St. Thomas in Houston. Santorum could not disagree more, and the former Congressman from Pennsylvania has attacked Kennedy for failing to infuse faith and politics.

Here's an excerpt from Kennedy's speech:

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.

Santorum has attacked this speech on more than one occasion, most notably with a speech at the same school in Houston nearly 50 years later:

Ultimately Kennedy's attempt to reassure Protestants that the Catholic Church would not control the government and suborn its independence advanced a philosophy of strict separation that would create a purely secular public square cleansed of all religious wisdom and the voice of religious people of all faiths. He laid the foundation for attacks on religious freedom and freedom of speech by the secular left and its political arms like the ACLU and the People for the American Way.

Santorum argued that the First Amendment protected religion and religious expression from the government, not the other way around. He said, "Kennedy's error also unleashed a new form of censorship that would make vows to the Almighty a constitutional offense" and listed Christian writers and leaders he often turned to for guidance when making decisions in Congress.

Santorum attacked Kennedy's speech again in March 2011 while addressing a conservative Catholic group in Boston called Catholic Citizen. Railing against Kennedy in front of Boston Catholics might sound like a gutsy move, but keep in mind that a member of Catholic Citizen recently attempted to blame feminism on the weakened state of men that has led to the outbreak of pedophilia plaguing the church and certain athletics coaches.

In his 2010 speech, Santorum said that God guides his political decisions, but he admitted that he is not always in line with Catholic leadership. He disagrees with the church leaders who opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and support welfare programs that benefit the poor, whose cause Catholics are taught to champion. 

Santorum's social conservatism may have rallied the fundamentalist Christian vote in Iowa, but American Catholics do not always respond the same way when the drums of culture war begin to pound. According to a recent Gallup poll, Santorum does no better among Republican Catholics than any of the other candidates. Catholic Republicans account for about 22 percent of the GOP's membership and "are remarkably close to the national average in their support for the major GOP candidates," according to Gallup.

Mike Ludwig

Mike Ludwig is a Truthout reporter. Follow Mike on Twitter @ludwig_mike.

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