Sunday, February 26, 2012

When a Politician Doesn't Understand the First Amendment, We're in Trouble

Here's Rick Santorum being interviewed by George Stephanopolous on ABC's This Morning. Pay close attention from the eleven-minute marker onwards. It's enlightening, in a frightening sort of way:-

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Specifically, Santorum virulently dislikes John F Kennedy's Speech on His Religion, which he delivered to a gathering of Protestant clergymen on September 12, 1960, who were just a tiny tad worried that a Catholic in the White House would tie the United States, somehow, more firmly to the Pope in the Vatican. You can read the transcript of this brilliant speech here, but the part which is really driving Santorum mad (or madder than he usually is), in fact, the part which makes him puke a buzzard is the following:-

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; where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference; and 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.

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.

Wow, that's a really powerful and moving speech, and it nails exactly what the First Amendment establishes with regard to separation of Church and State. It makes me feel a certain sense of vindication, because my understanding of the Constitution is limited to what was then the required one-year US and Comparative Government course required by the Commonwealth of Virginia for high school graduation. My particular course was taught by a retired US Army colonel who had the distinction of being a conservative atheist. It's good to know that my limited high school understanding of the First Amendment pretty much jives with President Kennedy's, and his was honed at Harvard Law School, no less.

But Rick Santorum disagrees. Santorum argues that the ability of the church to be involved in matters of state is essentially required and was wanted by our country's founders. Please tell me, what is it Rick Santorum does not understand about this statement:-

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

It's quite lucid, really. There's no "official" religion connected with either the US as a country or the government as a whole. We're free to practice whatever faith we follow or we're free not to practice any. Therefore, the government is secular and our faith (or lack of) should not impede us in our professions, whatever they may be; and religious faith should not be brought into government administration in any way, lest it appear that the tenets of one particular faith be imposed upon a person or people who do not follow that faith's credo.

Yet Santorum asserts:-

That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square… 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 in that says only people of non-faith can live in the public square and make their case. That makes me throw up.

Now either Santorum is deliberately parsing the First Amendment to drum up the fear factor amongst such people who can be easily spooked by him, or he doesn't understand the First Amendment. Which one? I, personally, don't think he has such a lack of integrity to attempt the first posit as he's simply not that cynical, which means I'm forced to opine that the second possibility is true: that he simply doesn't understand the First Amendment, as it was intended to be understood..

And that's not just bad for America, that's scary.

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