Santorum: Makes Me Want to Throw Up

By now we all know that Rick Santorum claimed that John Kennedy’s speech about separation of church and state made him “want to throw up.” You may also have heard that Santorum now “regrets” saying that.

What does he really regret? Thinking it, or saying it out loud?

There’s a couple of layers of potential meaning in Santorum’s original claim, which, as reported in the media was:

I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.

To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.

The first line has some legitimacy, if taken generously. I had a professor who claimed America did not have true, full, separation of church and state because we did not ban clergy from holding political office. If that’s what “absolute” separation means, then I’d go along with Santorum. I don’t believe in that America, either, and nothing in Kennedy’s speech indicated that he did, either.

It’s the second line that’s really problematic, the implication that Kennedy–or Obama, the real target of Santorum’s criticism–has said that religious people “have no role in the public square.” Obama speaks publicly about religion far too often for my taste, and I’m frequently reminded of how much I like my state senator, who I know is a person of faith, yet who is uncomfortable talking about it in political settings. Nobody is trying to keep him out of the public square.

But there is a possible link between the first and second lines that the media has largely, if not wholly, overlooked. Theologically speaking, “people of faith” are “the church.” So it’s possible that Santorum interprets “separation of church and state” as “separation of people of faith and state.” But again, nobody is arguing for that, and especially not Obama (who, let’s remember, offered a compromise on contraceptives when the Catholic bishops charged into the public square. And certainly not Kennedy, whose speech was made to reassure Protestant voters that he would not take orders from the Pope–that U.S. government policy would not be dictated by an incorporated religious organization.

Kennedy did use the term “absolute separation,” but the words that follow make it clear that he is not talking about not allowing religious people to make their arguments in the public square, only that no religious organization would get to dictate government policy; in fact he is rather explicit in stating that religious people are allowed to hold public office in his vision of “absolute separation.”

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.

Which part of that was so revolting to Santorum that it stimulated his gag reflex? Does he want the Pope to give him orders on public policy? Does he want Baptist ministers telling the members of his church how they must vote? Does he want any religious body imposing its will on “the public acts of [America’s] officials?” I believe his honest answers to those questions are not simply “no.” I don’t think he wants an official church. I don’t think he’d call his bishop to get specific directions on policy (and of course as President he could legitimately follow the path he thought was truly right–so long as it did not conflict with the Constitution–regardless of the ultimate source of his beliefs about what was right). But I don’t think he’d be bothered by Catholic churches refusing communion to supporters of legalized abortion, I don’t think he’d object to a minister telling his parishioners how to vote, and I don’t think he’d object to churches getting either public funds or political preferences.

Which brings us to how John Kennedy would look upon Rick Santorum:

I would not look with favor upon a president working to subvert the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so. And neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test — even by indirection — for it. If they disagree with that safeguard, they should be out openly working to repeal it.

I want a chief executive whose public acts are responsible to all groups and obligated to none; who can attend any ceremony, service or dinner his office may appropriately require of him; and whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation.”

That’s a good standard. It’s not clear that Santorum meets it.

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About J@m3z Aitch

J@m3z Aitch is a two-bit college professor who'd rather be canoeing.
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10 Responses to Santorum: Makes Me Want to Throw Up

  1. Lance says:

    Santorum is just following the traditional religious persons definition of religious liberty:
    The right to impose their beliefs and rituals onto society as a whole.

    i.e.) If the entire school isn’t forced to pray my religious liberty is being violated. If the city council doesn’t begin with a prayer my religious liberty is being violated. If a woman is allowed to obtain an abortion my religious liberty is being violated.

  2. AMW says:

    I’ll grant you school prayer and public prayers. But traditionally religious people practically never make the case that abortion violates their religious rights. They (we) make the case that the rights of the fetus are being violated.

  3. Michael Heath says:

    James Hanley writes:

    It’s the second line that’s really problematic, the implication that Kennedy–or Obama, the real target of Santorum’s criticism–has said that religious people “have no role in the public square.”

    Conservatives have continually and falsely conflated government abusing its powers to help Christianity with the ‘public square’. When a hypothetical teacher is exposed preaching to a captive audience of students and is disciplined, that’s, “Liberals attacking religious freedom by banning Christians from the public square”. Some non-conservatives either enable or promote this false narrative, such as Jon Meacham in American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation.

    I find such rhetoric to be evidence they’re perfectly aware of their dishonesty given their disingenuous argument; which is not a common occurrence. Most of the time I find them to be some combination of delusional and determinedly ignorant.

  4. Michael Heath says:

    AMW writes:

    I’ll grant you school prayer and public prayers. But traditionally religious people practically never make the case that abortion violates their religious rights. They (we) make the case that the rights of the fetus are being violated.

    Anti-abortion rights advocates fight to legally deny women the regulated exercise of their abortion rights way at, or in some cases, prior to fertilization – which is about 9 weeks prior to the development of a fetus.

    Second I’ve yet to encounter any anti-abortion group who leverage primary secular premises for their general objection to women choosing to have early-term abortions, which is where anti-abortion advocates distinguish themselves from the rest of the American population. These so-called pro-life advocates’ secondary and yes, secular, arguments are instead ancillary to a core of primary premises sourced from their religious beliefs – dogma yes but dogma without compelling biblical support. Where no amount of evidence, or even biblical passages contra their position, will sway their position. These secondary arguments are primary arguments for those people who support limited abortion rights similar to how Roe v. Wade staked out increasingly limited protections for women’s abortion rights as the fetus developed. So we do encounter secular arguments, but they are not the primary objection for the pro-life movement, merely convenient arguments when arguing with non-believers.

  5. Lance says:

    AMW.

    It is wholly a religious, or perhaps philosophical, argument that human “life” begins at conception.

    Equating an embryo, a fetus, or in some cases even a fertilized egg, to a “human being” is not a scientific proposition.

    Also let me say that I have personal issues with abortion as it is currently legislated in this country but I can not posit a scientific argument to stop another person from having or performing an abortion when the fetus is not viable.

    Perhaps as technology advances to the point where incubation by artificial means is practical I will be able to pose a scientific argument against abortion but no such technology currently exists.

  6. Equating an embryo, a fetus, or in some cases even a fertilized egg, to a “human being” is not a scientific proposition.

    It may not be a scientific proposition, but it invokes a set of values that are legitimate concerns for discussion when it comes to making policy. And “science,” by itself, ought not, in my opinion, to be sole arbiter of what is and isn’t legitimate for public discussion.

    I do agree, or suspect, that many people use their views on abortion as proxies for advancing a religionist agenda. But that motivation does not negate their argument.

    (sorry….this comment is going to be a hit and run…I have to leave for work now.)

  7. Matty says:

    So in 42 years you’ve gone from a case where a candidate felt the need to reassure voters he would not take orders from his church to a candidate who feels the need to say that he will?

  8. James Hanley says:

    Oh, excellent, Matty. I wish I’d said that.

  9. AMW says:

    Michael Heath,

    Forgive my sloppy wording with the word “fetus.” What I meant by fetus was the unborn at any stage of development after fertilization.

    I’d be interested to know which secular arguments you’re referring to. It seems to me that the major divide between pro-life and pro-choice is that the first tends to believe that rights begin when life begins, and the second tends to believe that rights begin when personhood begins, personhood being, of course, much more of a sliding scale.

    Lance,

    I’d say it’s a pretty straightforward scientific statement that even a fertilized egg cell is alive. From there one has to decide if that’s enough to make it “human,” or a “person.” I agree with Peirre Corneille that science can’t answer this on its own. As you point out, philosophy or religion are necessary to take that next step; although science may inform one’s philosophy or religion. But there is nothing inherently religious about coming to the conclusion that an embryo is deserving of human rights.

  10. Dr X says:

    Equating an embryo, a fetus, or in some cases even a fertilized egg, to a “human being” is not a scientific proposition.

    And a pile of lumber and a blueprint is not a house.

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