The big newsmaker this weekend was Rick Santorum saying that then-candidate John F. Kennedy’s speech in 1960 that discussed the separation of church and state “made him want to throw up.”
“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.”
As vivid — and as childish — as that image is, for those of us who actually bothered to read the speech (or watch a video of it), that isn’t what Mr. Kennedy said at all.
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.
At no point does Mr. Kennedy say that people of faith have no role in the public square. He is saying that no particular faith should have dominance over other people — either of faith or not of faith — in the public square. When he said that in 1960, there was a great deal of concern, mostly among the right-wingers, that a Catholic president would be taking orders from the Vatican and thereby impose its values on the rest of America.
That is, however, something that Mr. Santorum would like to do. He’s made it very clear that his faith and his faith alone is the only acceptable moral compass for America, thereby dictating that there be no birth control, no health care for the poor, no gay anything, no college education, climate change is fake, and a whole host of other issues that reflect a rather warped interpretation of his own church’s teachings (even the Pope came out with a treatise on treating climate change as a threat to humanity) and of the First Amendment.
So either Mr. Santorum is lying about what Mr. Kennedy said, or he didn’t understand what he said. Either way, he’s using it as an excuse to turn what Mr. Kennedy said — as well as the Constitution — on its head and make religious fealty a requirement for office.