Separation of Church/State IS Absolute, Santorum

It’s weird how many so-called “strict constitutionalists” don’t seem to have read the Constitution. If they have read it, they don’t understand what they read. While there are some on the left who don’t seem to understand it much, either (you can’t simply round up “banksters” and throw them in jail because something happened that caused the economy to collapse, for example; you need a specific broken law and enough evidence to convict in a court of law), the far right wing simply has no clue what any of it means, including the Second Amendment. 

It’s bad enough that the average Republican voter doesn’t seem to get the Constitution at all. But their candidates don’t understand it at all, and that is inexcusable. How can you take an oath to uphold something you don’t even understand in the first place.

Yesterday’s edition of "This Week" on ABC featured an exchange between George Stephanopoulos and Rick Santorum (Google it!), during which they discussed John F Kennedy’s September 1960 speech before Baptist ministers, in which he assured them he believed the separation between church and state was absolute. Here is that exchange. I placed a link to the transcript of the speech where it says “Begin Video Clip.”

STEPHANOPOULOS: You have also spoken out about the issue of religion in politics, and early in the campaign, you talked about John F. Kennedy's famous speech to the Baptist ministers in Houston back in 1960. Here is what you had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SANTORUM: Earlier (ph) in my political career, I had the opportunity to read the speech, and I almost threw up. You should read the speech.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

STEPHANOPOULOS: That speech has been read, as you know, by millions of Americans. Its themes were echoed in part by Mitt Romney in the last campaign. Why did it make you throw up?

SANTORUM: Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, "I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute." I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute. The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and vision of our country.

This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. 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 abhorrent (ph) at the time of 1960. And I went down to Houston, Texas 50 years almost to the day, and gave a speech and talked about how important it is for everybody to feel welcome in the public square. People of faith, people of no faith, and be able to bring their ideas, to bring their passions into the public square and have it out. James Madison—

STEPHANOPOULOS: You think you wanted to throw up?

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: — the perfect remedy. Well, yes, absolutely, 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 and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can't come to the public square and argue against it, but now we're going to turn around and say we're going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.

STEPHANOPOULOS: We got a lot of questions on this on Facebook and Twitter, and I want to play one of them to you from Doc Seuss (ph), Chris Doc Seuss (ph). What should we do with all the non-Christians in this country? If I do not hold this belief, which I do not, how does he plan on representing me?

SANTORUM: Yes, I just said. I mean, that's the whole point that upset me about Kennedy's speech. Come into the public square. I want, you know, there are people I disagree with. Come to my town hall meetings, as people have done, and disagree with me and let's have a discussion. Let's air your ideas, let's bring them in, let's explain why you believe what you believe and what you think is best for the country. People of faith, people of no faith, people of different faith, that's what America is all about, it's bringing that diversity into and challenge of the different ideas that motivate people in our country. That's what makes America work. And what we're seeing, what we saw in Kennedy's speech is just the opposite, and that's what was upsetting about it.

First of all, no one, least of all Kennedy, has even suggested there is no “role in the public square” for people of faith. That's just a big old straw man. If a large group of individuals wants to gather in the "public square" and say a prayer, as long as they're not breaking any other laws, you'll find no greater supporter than me. And given that roughly four-fifths of Americans claim a belief in a deity or some other spiritual force, it’s absurd to make that sort of argument on any level, anyway. The Constitution, however, is clear as a bell. No one, regardless of their professed faith, is allowed to make laws which are not secular in nature.

Here is the exact text of the First Amendment:

AMENDMENT I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

In addition, Article VI says the following:

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

I know may right wingers will suffer exploding head syndrome over this concept, but the various clauses within the Constitution do not work independently. Both of these work together, and they make it clear that “being a good Christian,” however one person like Rick Santorum defines that, is not a qualification for office. And both Article VI and the First Amendment make it crystal clear that the folks who wrote the Constitution intended to keep church and state absolutely separate.

Note the language in the First Amendment. It says (the government) is forbidden from making a law regarding religion. It doesn’t say they can’t make laws against religion; they are also forbidden from making laws in favor of a religion. It SAYS government must leave religion out of its decision-making altogether. There is no gray area in the First Amendment regarding religion. It doesn’t matter if Santorum’s pope is against all forms of contraception and prefers the rhythm method; Santorum has a solemn duty to make laws and policies without regard to his own religious dogma. Period. If Santorum has a personal religion-based proclivity against condoms, he shouldn’t use them. But he has no right or power under the Constitution to use US law to uphold his personal bias against them. He is absolutely foridden from using US law to uphold his interpretation of “God’s law.” In fact, based on his very own oath, he is REQUIRED to leave his religious biases outside when he arrives on public property to conduct business on behalf of the American people. He can go to church, and he can believe anything he wants, but he is absolutely forbidden from taking his personal religion into account when deciding policy.

The separation of church and state is absolute, and there is a very rational reason for it.

Imagine, if you will, that Iran dropped a nuclear bomb on the Middle East, and we were suddenly overrun with Muslim refugees to the point that they became a majority in this country. What if Rick Santorum’s precedent held, and any new president could impose his religious will on the rest of us. Could the new president force women to wear burqas? What if the new president and Congress demanded that all women quit their jobs and stay home with the children, because the Koran tells him that is how things should be? Something tells me Mr. Santorum’s ilk would have a serious problem with their very own interpretation of the First Amendment at that point.

The purpose for the stark and absolute separation of church and state, and the reason the separation is absolute, is because that separation is the only way to preserve both. Once you breach that separation, you tarnish them both.

That Rick Santorum thinks his own personal religious beliefs gives him the right to restrict the rights of others is frightening on its face. That he doesn’t understand that the oath he would have to take if he’s, in fact, elected should actually disqualify him altogether.

By the way, the exchange on “This Week” ended with the following:

STEPHANOPOULOS: We're just about out of time. You are eloquent on that point—

Now that made me throw up. No, George, he isn’t. Not at all. 

Milt, I think Santorum and his ilk would be just fine with demanding “that all women quit their jobs and stay home with the children,” because that seems to be their particular interpretation of what the Bible says. Honestly, for all the fear they’re trying to drum up about “sharia law,” it amazes me that they’re turning right around and promulgating a form of religious beliefs and laws that bear a close resemblance to the very thing they say they fear. All you have to do is say it’s “Christian,” and they’re just fine with it.

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