What Santorum considers ‘radical’

WHAT SANTORUM CONSIDERS ‘RADICAL’…. In 1960, John F. Kennedy spoke to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, and delivered one of the important speeches in American history on the role of religion in government. Kennedy, seeking to become the nation’s first Roman Catholic president, eloquently explained the value of First Amendment principles.

It seems foolish a half-century later, but there were widespread fears in 1960 that JFK would somehow be subservient to the pope. It led Kennedy to proclaim, “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.”

He went on to note that he was the target of “the finger of suspicion” at the time, but “tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped apart at a time of great national peril.”

The remarks helped set a welcome, enduring standard for religion, government, and politics that responsible figures in both parties could gladly embrace.

Rick Santorum, meanwhile, has crusaded against that standard for quite a while. Last year, on the 50th anniversary of JFK’s speech, the former senator traveled to Houston to insist that Kennedy had it backwards. This week, Santorum, hoping to become the second Roman Catholic president, said he’s “appalled” by JFK’s standard for religious liberty, adding that Kennedy’s beliefs were “radical” and did “great damage.” Santorum concluded, “Jefferson is spinning in his grave.”

I was inclined to take this apart, but it appears my friend and former colleague Rob Boston has already published a thorough take-down.

To Santorum, I can only say: Look, it’s bad enough that you run around talking trash about Kennedy, but adding Jefferson to your Festival of Ignorance is just too much. Leave the man out of it. You apparently know nothing about him.

Jefferson spent his entire life opposing government-mandated religion and fought every member of the clergy who supported that foul idea. Here’s a famous example: During the election of 1800, presidential candidate Jefferson knew that many New England preachers were yearning to win favoritism for their faith from the federal government. He also knew that they hated him because they realized he would never let that happen. That’s why they spread wild tales about Jefferson being a libertine who, if elected, would burn Bibles.

Wrote Jefferson to Benjamin Rush, “The returning good sense of our country threatens abortion to their hopes, & they believe that any portion of power confided to me will be exerted in opposition to their schemes. And they believe rightly; for I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” (Those words might sound familiar; they’re carved on the Jefferson Memorial here in Washington, D.C.)

If anything is causing Jefferson to spin in his grave, it would be the machinations of people like Santorum, who want to mix church and state into a poisonous theocratic gumbo and force-feed it to the American people.

Quite right. I am curious, though, exactly what kind of government Santorum would prefer, since he disapproves of the American model, and what he’d replace church-state separation with. Does he envision a Christian version of Iran? Maybe he’d like, contra Kennedy, to see Catholic policymakers follow the dictates of the Vatican? Perhaps Santorum wants Americans to start paying church taxes?

There is a “radical” vision here, but I’m confident it’s not JFK’s.