When John F. Kennedy was pressed on whether he'd take orders from Rome, he drew a hard line between religious conviction and political decision-making. You gave a speech in Houston in 2010 that claimed Kennedy misdirected our conversation on the roles of faith in public life. You said, "Kennedy took words written to protect religion from the government and used them to protect the government from religion." Can you explain what you mean? How did Kennedy lead us off track?

I think the speech did a good job of laying it out. [Editor's note: See a full transcript of the speech here.] President Kennedy said that there was an absolute separation of state and church and that faith has no role in bringing its claims into the public square and making an argument for laws consistent with those claims. Everyone else could argue on behalf of their convictions. As long as your point of view was not rooted in your faith, you could argue on behalf of your convictions. But if your point of view had a nexus to faith, you couldn't.

To me, that is just patently ridiculous. Kennedy created a sort of implicit prejudice against people of faith, to the detriment of a society that was built on the Judeo-Christian ethic.

To use an example, Judge Vaughn Walker in his recent ruling on California's Prop 8 wrote that "Moral and religious views form the only basis for a person forming their opinion that same sex couples are different from opposite sex couples, but such moral and religious beliefs are not a proper basis on which to legislate." Is this what you're talking about? And have you ever felt that people laid that kind of criticism on you, that it's improper for a political leader to shape his legislative agenda according to his or her religious views?

I think it's perfectly proper to articulate a moral code and to provide a moral rationale for it. What our Founders did, and what Christians do (certainly I do), is we find motivation through our faith to take on many issues. Now, I take those issues on both because the church teaches morally that these things are wrong and evil, but also because you have an obligation to lay out rationally and logically why this is detrimental to society. So it's not merely a religious claim or moral claim—although it would not necessarily be wrong even if it were merely that. You're welcome to come on that basis alone, as well.

For example, if you believe biology texts should teach creationism, that God created heaven and earth, I can give a rational and reasoned argument why I believe that's true, just as the other side can give an argument that it is false. But you should certainly be free to enter the public square and say, "The vast majority of Americans believe God created the heavens and the earth, and that should at least be discussed, the pros and cons of it weighed, in a class that is teaching on the origins of life."

When people who are non-believers want to come out and say, "I believe there is no God and that we were created from nothing," they're welcome to bring that perspective into the discussion. That's the point of the First Amendment. You allow all voices, and you make decisions not on the basis of what is a religious belief and what is not, but on the basis of whether there is support for this kind of education.