Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Rick Santorum's revisionist history on separation of church and state

Joan Walsh and Charlie Pierce have recently taken on Rick Santorum's dishonest revisionism about John Kennedy's position on freedom of religion and the separation of church and state.

Here's Rick "don't-look-at-my-dog-that-way" Santorum, from Meet the Press transcript for February 26, 2012:

MR. GREGORY: Senator, you called that in the past a, quote, "horrible speech" in part because you felt that he was too rigid about the separation of church and state. There's a concern within the party, and certainly to a lot of other voters, where your faith ends and your presidency would begin.

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: Yeah. The original line that you didn't play that got--that President Kennedy said is, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." That is not the founders' vision, that is not the America that, that made the greatest country in the history of the world. The idea that people of faith should not be permitted in the public square to, to, to influence public policy is antithetical to the First Amendment which says the free exercise of religion--James Madison called people of faith, and by the way, no faith, and different faith, the ability to come in the public square with diverse opinions motivated by a variety of different ideas and passions the perfect remedy. Why? Because everybody's allowed in. And the idea that people of faith have to keep it a private affair, my goodness, what does that mean, that the only place that--the only thing you're allowed to bring to the public square is secular ideas or, or not, or things that are not motivated by faith? Look at all of the great movements in this country that led to great just--you know, to, to righting wrongs that exist in this country, the slavery movement, the, the, the civil rights movement, all led by people of faith bringing their faith into the public square that all men are created equal...

MR. GREGORY: Fair enough. OK, but....

FMR. SEN. SANTORUM: ...and they have God-given rights. So this idea that we need to segregate faith is, is, is a dangerous idea. And, and we're seeing the Obama administration not only segregating faith but imposing the states' values now on churches, which is even a bigger affront to the First Amendment. [my emphasis]

One of the Christian Right's favorite complaints is a variation of the endless White People's Whine that them mean libruls are pickin' on us. In this version, Santorum complains that John Kennedy wanted to drive "people of faith" out of "the public square". (Just as an aside, does anyone ever encounter that phrase "the public square" being used by anyone except Christian Rightists whining about how Christians are persecuted in America?)

Santorum has been using several variations of this JFK spiel over the last several days.

Charlie Pierce addresses this in Rick Santorum Goes After JFK Esquire Politics Blog 02/27/2012. Pierce makes it a point to say after the first mention of Rick Santorum in any of his posts, "and have I mentioned recently what a colossal dick he is?" He says this of Pierce's JFK story:

Leave aside for the moment that Santorum's argument there is a bunch of dead leaves pretending to be a tree. Nobody — N-O-B-O-D-Y — is arguing anything like the kind of positions that Santorum alleges there. It certainly doesn't follow from anything Kennedy said in 1960. All Kennedy was doing was trying to convince the theological goobers who ministered to thousands of Southern Democrats — the very people who eventually would evolve into the Republican base with whom Santorum is currently pitching woo — that he wasn't going to be taking orders from John XXIII once they elected him. While unquestionably eloquent, Kennedy's speech was also a masterpiece of pure realpolitik, a calculation just as political as the one, say, that Rick Santorum made in voting for No Child Left Behind.

But it's important not to forget history just because Rick Santorum likes to play mumbledy-peg with it. Kennedy's speech came late on September 12, late in what would be a historically close campaign. He needed the votes of the people to whom those ministers in Houston spoke every Sunday, and a great number of them actually believed that, once inaugurated, Kennedy would receive his marching orders from the Vatican. The reason that whole thing sounds silly now is because Kennedy gave that speech in Houston in which he said, "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute." Rather than saying that people of his faith "had no role in the public square," Kennedy in his speech made possible the inclusion of Catholics in our national affairs at the highest levels by denying the power of the most prominent myth that had kept them out, the myth of "Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion" that Samuel Burchard had hung on the Democratic party in 1884, the myth that had crushed Al Smith, the first Catholic presidential candidate, in 1928.
Actually, that Rum Romanism and Rebellion slogan was used against the Democrats even in the 1850s, referring to the religious affiliation and perceived drinking habits of Irish immigrants and to the seditious tendencies of the pro-slavery Democratic Party back then.

Joan Walsh also took this one on in Santorum’s JFK story makes me want to throw up Salon 02/26/2012:

Let me start by saying: Santorum sounds literally hysterical. It’s a troubling sign of the GOP’s desperation that he’s virtually tied with Mitt Romney for the lead in the 2012 primaries. It pains me to actually have to take him seriously.

Of course, there’s no place in Kennedy’s speech where he said “people of faith are not allowed in the public square,” or anything close to that, and Santorum’s saying it three times doesn’t make it true. ...

It is absolutely clear that Kennedy accepts “people of faith in the public square” – his goal is to make a place for people of every faith in our public life. Kennedy doesn’t even go as far as Christian right hero Reagan, who actually said the separation of church and state protects the right of non-believers, too.

Kennedy doesn’t say he won’t consult with faith leaders; he says he won’t take “instruction on public policy from the Pope.” In fact, he confided in and took advice from Archbishop Philip Hannan, whom he befriended when he was first elected to Congress; Hannan gave the eulogy at Kennedy’s funeral. Sadly, Hannan died last September, after a long career as Archbishop of New Orleans, or else he might be able to refute Santorum from experience.
She returns to it in She returns to it in We don't need truth vigilantes Salon 02/27/2012, in which she look at the sad, lazy reporting on this in the New York Times and the Washington Post.

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