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Presidential hopeful Rick Santorum rejects JFK's separation of church and state

.- During a symposium exploring Catholic statesmanship on Dec.4, likely 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum rejected President John F. Kennedy’s advocacy of an absolute separation of church and state.

St. Thomas More College of Liberal Arts’ Symposium on Catholic Statesmanship took place Dec. 4, and included former Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania; Ray Flynn, the longtime mayor of Boston and Clinton appointee as U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See; and Prof. Hadley Arkes of Amherst College, a recent convert to Catholicism.

Describing Kennedy’s famous 1960 speech in which he aimed to dispel suspicions about the role the Pope might play in his administration, Santorum said that “Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith.”

“The idea of strict or absolute separation of church and state is not and never was the American model. It’s a model used in countries like France and until recently Turkey, but it found little support in America until it was introduced into the public discourse by Justice Hugo Black in the case of Everson v. The Board of Education in 1947,” he said.
 
The country's founders, according to Santorum, were determined to ensure that the new national government “had no jurisdiction over matters of religion, in large part to insure that each American would be free to pursue the religion of their choice without state interference.

“Far from reflecting hostility toward religion, our founders, rooted in their own faith convictions, knew that faith was not just an essential element, but the essence of civilization and the inspiration of culture.”

The former Pennsylvania senator also explained that Jefferson's “wall of separation” was meant to describe “how the First Amendment was designed to protect churches from the government and nothing more.” But Kennedy's “misuse of the phrase,” he argued, “constructed a high barrier that ultimately would keep religious convictions out of politics in a place where our founders had intended just the opposite.”

“Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to shield the government from religion,” Santorum explained.

“When I served in the U.S. Senate I often looked to the moral wisdom found in the writings of religious people,” he said, citing Mother Teresa's 1994 speech against abortion at the National Prayer Breakfast and Pope John Paul II's call for absolving Third World debt in 2000.

“Should I have rejected the instructions from the clergy to relieve debt because it was inspired by the word of God?” he asked.

Santorum said that a major political offshoot of Kennedy's philosophy was best illustrated by Mario Cuomo's speech at the University of Notre Dame on the 24th anniversary of JFK’s Houston speech, in September 1984.

“There he espoused his nuanced position on abortion: that, as a result of his religious convictions he was personally opposed to abortion. But he then applies Kennedy's thesis and refrains from imposing his values upon others whose views, because the truth is indiscernible, are equally valid.”

“Virtual stampedes of self-proclaimed Catholic politicians followed Cuomo into this seemingly safe harbor and remain there today. This political hand washing made it easier for Catholics to be in public life, but it also made it harder for Catholics to be Catholic in public life,” Santorum observed.

He then described Cuomo's stand as “nothing more than a camouflage for the faint of heart -- a cynical sanctuary for concealing true convictions from the public, and for rationalizing a reluctance to defend them. Kennedy, Cuomo and their modern day disciples would resolve any conflict between religion and politics by relegating faith to the closet.”

Santorum admitted that there are moral issues where he has differed from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and even the Pope, such as welfare reform, the war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and some immigration policies.

“While all of these issues have profound moral underpinnings,” he said, “none of them involve moral absolutes. War is are not always unjust; government aid is not always just or compassionate. The bishops and I may disagree on such prudential matters, but as with all people of good will with whom I disagree, I have an obligation to them and my country to listen to their perspective and perform a healthy reexamination of my own position.”

The former senator explained that President Kennedy could have offered the “Church’s principle of the harmony of faith and reason” in response to those who worried about his Catholicism. 

“The American experience has demonstrated a healthy union of faith and reason,” Santorum said. We have learned that faith for its own sake, apart from the pursuit of truth is only a sentiment, and that reason for its own sake withers into rationalism. … If I have faith only in myself, I belong to a very small religion.”

In Santorum's view, the brilliance of America's founders “created a paradigm that has given America the best chance of any civilization in the history of man to endure the test of time.”

But America's well-balanced model is in danger, he warned.
 
“You'll see it in the public square today, and it's popular because it pretends to impose nobody's values on anybody. Yet it's an illusion because it uses a cloak of ‘neutrality,’ ‘objectivity’ and ‘rationality’ that results in the imposition of secular values on everybody while marginalizing faith and those who believe as ‘moralizing theocrats’.”

“I believe we all have an obligation to be good stewards of this great inheritance the ‘true remedies’ generations of Americans created with their last full measure of devotion.”

“That's why we should feel so blessed to be here at a time when the land that God has so richly blessed is being put to the test. Many generations are never called to do great things, make great sacrifices to maintain liberty. We are the fortunate ones,” Santorum said.

“In Chapter Six of Isaiah, the prophet looked up to heaven and heard a voice that called out for someone to stand for God. Whom shall I send? The voice asked. And Isaiah responded ‘Here I am Lord, send me.’ This is our watch and like every generation we are being called Whom shall we send? What is your answer?” the former senator said in closing.

Each of the speakers answered questions from the audience before the symposium gave way to a cocktail hour. The evening was rounded out with a keynote address from Cardinal Raymond Burke in which he spoke about the importance of authentically Catholic colleges.

Charles McKinney, Director of Communications for Thomas More College, told CNA that the audience “responded extremely well to Senator Santorum’s speech. He received a long standing ovation for his remarks, and was mobbed by well-wishers after the event."


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