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Santorum v. JFK

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 I guess Rick Santorum was so nauseated by reading Jack Kennedy's statement to those Houston ministers about his belief in an America "where the separation of church and state is absolute" that he couldn't quite take in what JFK actually meant by the phrase. Here's how Santorum characterized that in his interview with George Stephanopoulos yesterday:

...people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square....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...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.

But if, as Santorum suggests, you do go on and read the speech, you will discover that Kennedy never said that people of faith have no role in the public square or that faith is not allowed there. He did, however, articulate a number of positions that Santorum should be asked if he agrees with. Here's the questionnaire:

1. Do you believe in an America "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"?

2. Do you believe in an America "where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference"?

3. Do you believe in an America "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"?

4. Do you believe in an America "that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish"?

5. Do you believe in an America "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"?

6. Do you believe in an an America "where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials"?

7. Do you believe in an America "where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all"?

8. Do you believe in an America "where religious intolerance will someday end, where all men and all churches are treated as equals, where every man has the same right to attend or not to attend the church of his choice, where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind, and where Catholics, Protestants, and Jews, at both the lay and the pastoral levels, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood"?

9. Would you "not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty"?

10. Would you "neither look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test, even by indirection"?

11. Do you agree that you "do not speak for [your] church on public matters; and the church does not speak for [you]"?

12. Do you agree that "whatever issue may come before [you] as President, if [you] should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, [you] will make [your] decision in accordance...with what [your] conscience tells [you] to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates"?

13. And finally, do you agree that "if the time should ever come when [your] office would require [you] to either violate [your] conscience or violate the national interest, then [you] would resign the office"?

These are the propositions that constituted JFK's definition of absolute separation of church and state, and in 1960 they elicited widespread acceptance. I'd venture to say that they still would. Mostly what's changed is that the phrase "separation of church and state" has been redefined and contemptuously dismissed in certain conservative religious circles--the circles that Santorum is currently appealing to. But it would be interesting to have a discussion about number 6: the desirability of having religious bodies seeking to "impose their will" on the general populance and on public policy. 

As for JFK, it's worth recalling that as president, he did not exactly shun religious rhetoric. He began his Inaugural Address by asserting that "the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe—the belief that the rights of man come not from the generosity of the state, but from the hand of God." And he ended it with: "let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own." That's a pretty far cry from "faith is not allowed in the public square."

Photo by Christopher Halloran / Shutterstock.com

Topics: Politics, Election
Tags: john f. kennedy, santorum

Comments

  1. Santorum may have finally and fatally stuck his foot in his mouth here.

  2. Thomas… probably not. 
    To the mindless extremist religionists that he plays to this kind of distortion of history, and rabid theocracy endorsing is the stuff dreams are made of gold.

  3. Least one forget, after JFK made these remarks he was assassinated too. While Massachusetts had a Vountary School Prayer referendum on the ballot that passed by 82% of the people.  JFK biggest regret was not opposing the 1962 Madeline Murray Ohare school prayer ban according to Ted Sorensen.

  4. And your point, Paulus, is that he would not have been assassinated had he not supported separation of church and state?

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