Does Separation of Church and State Mean Anything?

Rick Santorum is well-known for his religious viewpoints, but some are starting to wonder if he has gone to far. On ABC’s “This Week”, Santorum said ““I don’t believe that the separation of church and state is absolute. The First Amendment means the free exercise of religion and that means bringing people and their faith into the public square.”

According to this article from Bloomberg, Santorum greatly disagreed with a speech former President John F. Kennedy gave in 1960 about separation of church and state. Santorum is quoted in the Huffington Post saying “ “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…to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”

According to this CBS article, Kennedy was a Catholic, which brought concern by some people. He gave a speech explained he was the Democratic candidate for president who happens to be Catholic, not the Catholic candidate for president. Santorum has built his entire campaign on his faith, and this only solidifies that approach even more.

Santorum feels that America is based on diversity and Kennedy’s speech promoted the opposite idea. Santorum expresses a viewpoint that implies that the separation of church and state would actually prohibit individuals from expressing their freedom of religion and would only end up in the government imposing their personal religious viewpoints on the average citizen.

Santorum is attempting to use this to pop some holes in President Barack Obama’s image. In the Huffington Post article, Santorum said “”[Obama believes in] some phony ideal, some phony theology … not a theology based on the Bible, a different theology.” This is not the only complaint Santorum has lodged against Obama. The Los Angeles Times explained that Santorum feels that Obama wants everyone to go to college so society can “impart liberal ideology” on young adults. He also implied it was a slap in the face to all non degree holding adults.

Santorum also expressed anger that Obama apologized for the incident in which U.S. personnel in Afghanistan burned copies of the Koran. Apologizing “shows weakness””, according to the Times article. Santorum felt that Obama could have expressed that the Koran was the Islamic Holy Book without apologizing.

How do you weigh in on this argument? Do you think America should have definite separation of church and state? Or do you think a more flexible definition needs to be afforded to encompass the right of freedom of religion?

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7 thoughts on “Does Separation of Church and State Mean Anything?

  1. Kelly says:

    I don’t know why we are talking about a speech John F. Kennedy gave in 1960, but since we are; yes, JFK was a candidate for President that happened to be Catholic. Rick Santorum is a conservative Catholic that happends to be running for President. His right to put religion first in his life and have his religious views respected is guarnteed in the Constitution. Everyone else has the right to decide if the line between church and state should be more clear. I happen to think the line should be clear and that has nothing to do with my faith. I respect Rick Santorum’s faith and he would do well to respect and not question others. He often quotes the bible. Maybe he should re-read the passage about thowing stones from a glass house.

    • Thank you for your comment. I also think it’s odd that this has come out in recent conversation. In my personal opinion I think we are seeing more and more people base their political view points off of things other then their religious viewpoints. Although for a lot of people politics and religion are closely intertwined, there are still many that separate the two and having a strong religious base could scare some voters off.

  2. The JFK speech that Santorum objects to is very limited

    Santorum agrees with JFK that no elected official should take direction from their religious leader, but he disagrees that the religious institution should be prohibited from voicing its opinion in the public square. So he objects to JFK phrase “without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates.

    I think Santorum’s point is that secularism is trying to force religious out of the public square, that it can only function inside a church and no influence on any public policy.

    “I do not speak for my church on public matters; and the church does not speak for me. Whatever issue may come before me as President, if I should be elected, on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject, I will make my decision in accordance with these views — in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.”
    http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/jfkhoustonministers.html

    • Thank you for your comment. I think one issue we often run into is trying to interpret things from the past. JFK, along with all former presidents, gave hundreds of speeches, interviews and statements during his time in office. Although we might have a decent grasp on what he meant, it is hard for anyone to say for certain what he meant.

      I think people should view Santorum for who he is and what his religious views are alone, and should not bring historical speeches in to trying and define how Santorum will act in the future. It puts him in a position that is difficult to navigate.

  3. Jules says:

    Unfortunately, the various religions tend to think that they are the only ones having God’s ear and knowing what God wants. Assuming there is a God. Way back in 1960, Catholics were perceived as being more beholden to the Pope than the Protestants, who had their ministers, but no one who claimed to be God’s rep on Earth. Hence JFK’s speech to allay fears that if he were elected President the Pope would be in charge. I think Mr. Santorum is trying to say “Hey America, what has happened to our values?” and he uses the Bible as his source of moral ideas. of course he wants votes from people who think like him. You dont have to be religious to agree he’s got a point about values. It being the USA, no one has to consult the Bible if they dont want to, and we don’t have to vote for him. Or our incumbent President who, I KNOW, is not doing what God wants him to do! (haha). The USA was founded as a secular state, but of course influenced by the Judeo-Christian mores of the Founders. So, a nod to the reality that everyone is influenced by their upbringing in whatever religion or no religion at all. Our elected representatives in Washington could do with a dose of morality and a kick in the pants! PS Don’t think there were glass houses in biblical times. that quote is about throwing stones at a sinner only if you are without sin.

    • Kelly says:

      A more modern day version of He who is without sin among us, let him cast the first stone, John 8

    • I think this becomes a tricky conversation because not everyone bases their morals off of religion. I think with Santorum in particular there is a great fear that he will try and impose his catholic beliefs into how our country is run. Santorum is trying to fight that notion, but it will be an upwards battle all the way through the election season.

      As for the glass houses, I do not think Kelly literally meant there were glass houses. We are in a very modern political world that has heavy religious influences. The bible is a historical work, and using more modern references can help people visualize the versus as they apply in today’s world.

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