Rick Santorum’s certainly no Jack Kennedy
by Russell's Rants
Originally published February 28, 2012
Why is Rick Santorum purposely misreading JFK’s 1960 speech to Baptist Ministers about the separation of church and state? Santorum said over the weekend that Kennedy’s famous speech almost made him throw up because its vision of an absolute wall of separation was somehow revolting.
According to Santorum,
To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. . . . 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 foreign at the time of 1960.
I did take Santorum’s advice and read Kenney’s speech. And Kennedy was saying something completely different: that as a Catholic running to be president, Kennedy would not be taking direction from the Pope.
He was not saying that people of faith should be excluded from the public square or that his faith did not inform his views – just that his faith was no one’s business but his own.
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. . . . I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office. . . .
In the penultimate sections of his speech, JFK waxed poetic and then got very specific, saying:
I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party’s candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.
Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
President Kennedy’s 1960 speech is as relevant today as when he gave it almost 52 years ago. Indeed, even Newt Gingrich, yes, that Newt Gingrich, told Fox News today that Kennedy was reassuring voters that he would not obey any foreign religious leader. Gingrich said Kennedy was declaring “that his first duty as president would be to do the job of president, and I think that’s correct.”
So why would Santorum stir up this pot and go after a popular martyred president? His statements appear to be of a piece with his reactionary populist views on everything else: from his aversion to public and higher education as liberal indoctrination and advocacy of home schooling – to his fear of the hedonism set free by contraception (yes, that pill) – to his opposition not only to same-sex marriage but to any gay rights whatsoever.
The ultimate answer appears to be that Rick Santorum does not believe in the separation between church and state and would view his role as president as some kind of hybrid religious/government leader (yes, that ayatollah).
And he thinks this stance is a political winner. Maybe in a narrow Republican primary – or maybe not even there. But certainly not anywhere else.