Rick Santorum Is Wrong About Church/State Separation

Rick Santorum doesn’t believe in church/state separation and that should frighten everybody, religious and non-religious.

Here’s the relevant excerpt from his interview on ABC’s This Week With George Stephanopoulos, regarding the speech President John F. Kennedy made in which he spoke out in favor of church/state separation:

STEPHANOPOULOS: That speech has been read, as you know, by millions of Americans. Its themes were echoed in part by Mitt Romney in the last campaign. Why did it make you throw up?

SANTORUM: Because the first line, first substantive line in the speech says, “I believe in America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” 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.

This is the First Amendment. The First Amendment says the free exercise of religion. That means bringing everybody, people of faith and no faith, into the public square. 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 abhorrent (ph) at the time of 1960. And I went down to Houston, Texas 50 years almost to the day, and gave a speech and talked about how important it is for everybody to feel welcome in the public square. People of faith, people of no faith, and be able to bring their ideas, to bring their passions into the public square and have it out. James Madison —

STEPHANOPOULOS: You think you wanted to throw up?

(CROSSTALK)

SANTORUM: — the perfect remedy. Well, yes, absolutely, 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 that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? That makes me throw up and it should make every American who is seen from the president, someone who is now trying to tell people of faith that you will do what the government says, we are going to impose our values on you, not that you can’t come to the public square and argue against it, but now we’re going to turn around and say we’re going to impose our values from the government on people of faith, which of course is the next logical step when people of faith, at least according to John Kennedy, have no role in the public square.

How out of touch with reality can one man be? To suggest that people of faith are left out of the national conversation and people without faith are the only ones who get to speak out is the exact opposite of what’s actually happening.

We live in a country where only one Congressperson, Rep. Pete Stark (D-CA), is openly non-theistic.

We live in a country where religious groups have incredible political power — power they built up, ironically, by claiming that they didn’t have any political power.

We live in a country where every single president in modern times has been a Christian. Not only have they all been Christian, atheists are the least electable minority group in the country. Forget getting elected — we still have to deal with the fear of coming out publicly to our family and friends.

We may talk about Mitt Romney‘s “Mormon problem,” but he’s still one of the frontrunners in the Republican primary. Even in the Democratic Party, you won’t see an openly non-religious candidate leading the pack anytime soon.

Patrick Caldwell at The American Prospect echoes these thoughts:

… Americans lacking allegiance to an organized religion are vastly underrepresented among public officials. Far from being ostracized as Santorum might imagine, politicians exploit religion to boost their fortunes at the polls. It’s been a common sight to find Santorum or Newt Gingrich gladhanding voters at a church on Sundays during campaign season, and the party’s opposition to same-sex marriage rights is couched entirely in the language of Christianity.

And Rick Santorum thinks we’re dominating the national conversation? He says this while he’s the sitting atop the current Republican polls? He has no idea what’s actually happening in this country to people who don’t buy into his worldview.

Then again, what do I know. I went to college, so I’ve clearly been indoctrinated by lefties.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://www.bricewgilbert.blogspot.com Brice Gilbert

    “Public square” isn’t what he thinks it is.

    • http://tommorris.org/ Tom Morris

       Damn straight: the great problem with debates on secularism and the First Amendment (etc.) is so many people use vague expressions like the “public square”, the “public sphere” or the “public domain”. Which neatly conflates the argument: of course, it’d be wrong if religious advocates couldn’t make their case in the “public square”. But that’s not what church/state separation is about: it’s about saying that the government can’t endorse or establish churches or religious groups.

      This vague terminology exists for a reason: it makes good propaganda for the theocrats.

      • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

        Exactly. Santorum knows exactly what church/state separation means. He knows, though, that if he trumps this up as a secular attack on one’s personal beliefs, it’ll rile up the theists in the country. It’s complete dishonesty.

        • Anonymous

          His only path to success is to convince enough people that the government is after their god, their guns, and their little girls.

        • Anonymous

           I don’t know. There are plenty of people who use the silly “The words aren’t in the Constitution” line. Santorum does believe what he says. He probably thinks it should mean that there can’t be an established state religion, but that the courts (damn activist judges) have taken the concept too far

      • Johnk

        To be accurate, the Constitution does not say that the Government cannot endorse, it says it cannot “make any laws…”
        It’s the courts that wrote “separation…”

  • BobtheRobot

    If you think Rick Santorum is an idiot, then you are fooled.

    Rick Santorum is simply a successful liar.

    Underestimating your enemy spells an early defeat.

  • http://twitter.com/justinnovative Justin

    He skipped a part:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”

  • Idioteque

    I live in Australia, where we have an openly non-theistic Prime Minister, and still religion serves as a loud and strong voice within politics - despite my country having significantly smaller religious demographics than yours.

    Granted, I don’t think anyone is arguing for these voices or opinions to be silenced – that would be hypocritical. But the “we’re under-represented, yet also the “ideological core” of the country” argument is ridiculous.

  • Iosue

    Santorum obviously has poor reading and comprehension skills. 

  • Zeggman

    I’m sorry that his Madison reference was interrupted, as I’m curious to see how he could twist Madison to contradict Kennedy. My favorite Madison quote:

    “Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last

    centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, and the full

    establishment of it in some parts of our country, there remains

    in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some

    sort of alliance or coalition between Government and Religion

    neither can be duly supported. Such, indeed, is the tendency to

    such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the

    parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded against.

    And in a Government of opinion like ours, the only effectual

    guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general

    opinion on the subject. Every new and successful example,

    therefore, of a perfect separation between the ecclesiastical and

    civil matters, is of importance; and I have no doubt that every

    new example will succeed, as every past one has done, in showing

    that religion and Government will both exist in greater purity

    the less they are mixed together.” (Letter to Edward Livingston, July 10, 1822)

    Hmmm, coalition between government and religion corrupts them both, and perfect separation is desirable? Madison’s “perfect separation” and Kennedy’s “absolute separation” sure seem compatible in my mind; I wonder what’s happening in Santorum’s?

  • T-Rex

    Santorum living up to the definition of his name. Dude is as delusional as they come.

    • TiltedHorizon

      Rick SanAtorIum.

      I’m stealing this. :)

  • Keith Collyer

    Santorum is not an idiot (though he is a raging hypocrite), he knows exactly what he is doing. But he is treating his audience as idiots. Like the other republican candidates he knows he cannot compete on policies so he uses issues.

    • Mairianna

      And what scares me the most is that there are so many Americans who ARE idiots about this issue.  

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Georgia-Stanton/647620116 Georgia Stanton

    Ha. I only saw the title of this at first, and my immediate thought was, ‘yeah, um. Isn’t Rick Santorum wrong about most things?’ Then I had a moment of amusement before being bewildered by the conversation about separation of church and state making somebody throw up.

  • Lambert


    How out of touch with reality can one man be?” Well it’s been said before,  by Keith above for one, but it bears repeating:

    Santorum is not a fool, he is just a consummate liar, like most politicians and all “devouts”. The temptation to be so must be irresistible: his constituents are already deluded and so primed to accept any kind of lie that comes out of his mouth. 

    • Anonymous

      Taliban Rick isn’t a liar. Romney and Gingrich are the liars. The ones who will say anything and change their position to anything to get elected.

      Santorum is far more dangerous. He is a true believer. Misguided yes, but he believes everything he says

      • FSq

        I disagree. I think he is a cynical liar who is ready to say anything necessary to appeal to the evangelical vote. He is power hungry and as batshit crazy as Bachmann, but he is not a true believer. What I get from this man is true evil and danger. He is an “any means necessary” person.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AnonymousBoy Larry Meredith

    I don’t get it… State/church separation just means government can’t endorse or establish religion. Religious people can still have their say in government policies. As long as those policies aren’t endorsing or establishing religion. Pretty simple. Yet he mixes it up very vaguely. As others in these comments have pointed it out, Santorum knows the difference, but he’s purposely distorting it. Being just vague enough to get away with it and being sensational enough to get religious voters worked up.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      You see Larry, your problem is that you’re one of those secularists who is completely intolerant of dissent.  And you fear dissent because dissent comes from reason, common sense, and divine revelation.

      (And just so I don’t get mistaken for Poe again, that’s nearly a direct Santorum quote) http://richarddawkins.net/articles/645022-santorum-sacks-sinister-secularism

    • http://profiles.google.com/statueofmike Michael S

      I think the problem is the claim that if a religious person is in any way affiliated with something that doesn’t align with their faith, that person’s faith is being oppressed.

      “My work place deals with homosexuals” -> My beliefs about interacting with homosexuals are oppressed.

      “an America where the separation of church and state is absolute” -> My belief about helping my religion rule the world is oppressed.

      It’s a stupid, flagrant argument based on causality. It’s also made implicitly, because it’s so obviously stupid and obnoxious when made explicit. We need a nice, concise rebuttal to the entire array of arguments like this.

  • http://twitter.com/AtheistJohnny Johnny

    While I think he is seriously out of touch, I don’t think he’s an idiot in his tactic. He is playing the the Christian belief that they are being repressed and persecuted.

  • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

    Santorum does make a distinction between his religious government and Sharia.  The problem with Sharia (in his opinion) is that government and religion are mixed.  In Rick’s vision, government should be UNDER religion.  That is, he doesn’t want religion IN government, he wants government UNDER religion.  God’s (Biblical) law is supreme in Rickland.

    And my prediction is that he’s going to pick Bachman as his VP.  You know, to show religious diversity.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_ORRVVC5R2QWLTXEM6SX5L6BORE Jay Arrrr

    Atheists couldn’t get elected dogcatcher in most parts of this country. 
    It amazes me that Pete Stark was elected. His district must have ZERO chritians living in it.

  • BettyJHB

    Most sane Americans don’t want a priest, preacher, evangelist or any other religious icon in the White House. We want a leader who knows and understands the Constitution and will work to uphold the laws of our land.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_LNWAM4DYCN4MLBLHFGDHE2YKZM GloomCookie613

    As I said to a friend last night about this very issue: Rick Santorum is one talented guy.  It’s quite a feat to be both frothy AND dense.

  • Rwlawoffice

    Did you guys even read what he said or his problems with the Kennedy speech before you commented? Not once does he say that religion should control government. He is just saying that religion should not be excluded from the public discourse and that its views are relevant.  He even says that the views of those without faith should be taken into consideration. 

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      Have you read Kennedy’s speech?  http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16920600

      I don’t see Kennedy claiming

      only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case

      Santorum on the other hand thinks our civil laws must align with Biblical law

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OLJYN1mxmKg 

      Now, whatever you think about abortion, (and I presume you oppose it) if you think the problem with it is that it’s inconsistent with God’s law, then what other of God’s laws are we not consistent with?

      He has said that the problem with the ‘secular left’ is that they are ‘a religion, but not a Biblical religion’.  The presumption I’m making is that a ‘Biblical religion’ is what’s ‘correct’ in Rick’s eyes.

      He even says that the views of those without faith should be taken into consideration.

      Oh, how very generous of him.  The problem isn’t whether someone has faith, or what their faith is.  And it isn’t that people vote based on whatever they want.

      The actions of government should not be driven by faith.  You can have believe in God, and think God tells you all abortion and contraception and working on the Sabbath are sins.  Fine.  But if you want to push laws restricting any of those you should have a secular reason.  That secular reason might align itself with your religious reason, but since I don’t share your religious values, you shouldn’t be able to impose those religious values on me.

      I’m going to ask you to take a big step outside yourself here.  I know it feels comfortable to live by Biblical laws, since they’re YOUR laws.  But how would it be different if it was a different book?  If Mitt Romney was president, would it be acceptable for him to push for caffeine to be made illegal because it’s against God’s law?  Not because it’s a harmful stimulant, but because God says it’s a sin?

      ok?  It’s not that a person of faith is making their case.  Or that their case happens to align with what their god says.  The problem is that if the case is ONLY “My God Says”, then you have to understand that “Your God didn’t tell me, so what your God tells you is irrelevant to me”

      • Rwlawoffice

        Yes I did read the speech and I watched Santorum’s response to it. I stand by what I said. Santorum is not saying that our government needs to be run by religion,  he is objecting to Kennedy saying that the voice of religious people play no part in government.

        In the quote you referenced from the forum Santorum makes the specific comment that in a theocracy the secular and religious laws are intertwined and that is not what we have in this country nor should we have that. What he is explaining is his view as a Christian that our country will have strive and discord as long as we are not in line with God. Even if he wanted to impose that upon us all, in a free and democratic society those issues are determined by Congress and a majority vote.  To use your example, if the majority of congress was Morman and voted to outlaw caffeine, it would be the law of the land under the constitution the way that laws are made and if it was determined that the law was unconstitutional it would be struck down by the Supreme Court. If a law was based strictly upon a religious belief and nothing else, the establishment clause would be viewed as preventing it.
         
        I hear you claiming that a person’s christian views should not come into politics at all. However, if you don’t think that a person’s nonreligious worldview flows into his politics, that is naive. For example, I would imagine that you believe that churches should be taxed.  If so, can you honestly say that this this view is not derived in part from your worldview that there is no God and no real need for churches? Even if you couch that in your version of separation of church and state and what that entails your worldview would come down on the side that says this tax would not be unconstitutional.

        As for abortion, you are correct that I am against it. My views are based upon my Christian beliefs but does that disqualify that view as being legitimate? Or do all views have to be based exclusively upon secular reasons in order to have legitimacy? And what is a purely secular reason anyway?  For example, a humanist atheist could believe that abortion is wrong because they believe that life begins at conception.  Is a law outlawing abortion by that humanist based upon that belief invalid?

        What you are really claiming is that only a secular view counts and that all others are irrelevant. This is another way to say, all religious people should stay quiet and keep their views to themselves. Just what Santorum was objecting to in Kennedy’s speech.    

        • unclemike

           You may have read Kennedy’s speech, but you didn’t understand it. Kennedy never says that “the voice of religious people play no part in government.”

          Kennedy said (and I’m sorry but the words are powerful and I don’t feel right summarizing): “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.”

          It’s a nuanced position, and I understand some people just don’t do nuance.

        • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

          I’d like to get the strawman out of the way once and for all.  Rick said:

          What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case? 

          and you said

          [Santorum] is objecting to Kennedy saying that the voice of religious people play no part in government.

          Nobody has said that anybody’s voice doesn’t play a role in government.  All our voices belong.  Thankfully, as you point out, even Rick acknowledges that atheist views should be taken into consideration.

          All people, yes, but arguments- I think arguments from divine revelation are meaningless because they are not falsifiable.  That is, there is no room or possibility of debate.  We can argue the correct translation or context, but there’s no room for ‘God’ to be wrong.  So my argument that we should be required to eat pasta on Wednesday, because the Flying Spaghetti monster told me so is no less valid than someone quoting Mathew 5:39 to abolish the justice system.  And you can argue the historic legitimacy of the Bible, and Muslims can argue that God told Muhammad that everyone should pray five times per day.  So yes, I guess I am saying that a policy or law that affects other people should have a reason behind it besides “My God told me so”.  I don’t care if YOU want to refrain from wearing mixed fibers, but if you want me to, I sure hope you’ll have a better reason than to be in alignment with what you think God wants.

           Or do all views have to be based exclusively upon secular reasons in order to have legitimacy?

          No, peoples’s views will contain a multitude of factors.  But the arguments worthy of merit, yes.  There are plenty of secular arguments (which we can debate) to ban all abortions, ban birth control, ban caffeine, ban gay sex, ban mixed fibers, require prayer five times per day, require men to not shave etc etc.  Some of those arguments might be pretty dumb, but we could have a debate.  But if you tell me “God said to not shave”, what can I do but tell you that God told me something else?

          [Church taxes] If so, can you honestly say that this this view is not derived in part from your worldview that there is no God and no real need for churches?

          It’s more along the lines of “why do churches need/deserve a tax break?”  Because they do charity work?  Good argument.  Because we give tax breaks to other non-profit organizations?  Maybe good, depends on the argument for the other non-profits.  If a bunch of atheists wanted to buy a building to be a meeting space to discuss philosophy and ethics every Sunday, would we have to pay tax on that building?  Is our need any less valid than yours?

          My views are based upon my Christian beliefs but does that disqualify that view as being legitimate? Or do all views have to be based exclusively upon secular reasons in order to have legitimacy? And what is a purely secular reason anyway?

          I think “Life begins at conception because there is the realized potential of a self sufficient human being” is a legitimate secular argument.  We can disagree, and argue how many conceptions end in natural termination and development of nervous systems, but at least we have a debate.

          The bottom line is, I think if you have a good argument, you should be able to make it without invoking God.  Atheists do it (ok, you might not agree with how good the arguments are :-) all the time.  And again, I don’t care if God is one of  your reasons, but I would hope you would bring something else to the table.  As far as I can tell, Rick Santorum sees no need to bring any argument other than “God said so”.

          • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

            Sorry, I forgot one

             If a law was based strictly upon a religious belief and nothing else, the establishment clause would be viewed as preventing it.

            Sure.  What Rick would like to do and what Rick can actually get away with are very different.  I’d just rather have a president who doesn’t even want to do the crazy in the first place.

      • Christine

        @wk633:disqus - Very well said! I was going to respond, read your post, and there was no need to elaborate any further. 

        You hit it right on. Thank you.

  • Sbwaldron

    He’s got to simply be pandering for a post-campaign job or book deal or whatever. He’s smart enough to know that this crap won’t get him elected president.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cburschka Christoph Burschka

    I’d have to throw up too if I was that full of santorum.


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