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Santorum: ‘Separation of Church and State’ Meant to Protect Church from Gov’t, Not Vice Versa

Mon Sep 13, 2010 - 12:15 pm EST

By Kathleen Gilbert

HOUSTON, Texas, September 13, 2010 (LifeSiteNews.com) - "I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute" - these words of U.S. President John F. Kennedy helped bring about today's "privatization of faith," which allows politicians to rationalize away their abandonment of moral principles in the public square, according to former U.S. senator Rick Santorum.

In a speech last Thursday at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, Texas Santorum contemplated the consequences of Kennedy's famous words, just before the fiftieth anniversary of the late president's address. His remarks were published in full by Catholic Online Monday.

The former U.S. senator pointed out the problems that arise from Kennedy's appeal to a  "conscience" that is free off religious influences. The late president stated: "Whatever issue should 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 what my conscience tells me to be in the national interest and without regard to outside religious pressure or dictates."

"I too use my conscience as a guide, but you are not born with a competent conscience; it is formed and continues to be formed by something and reflects that formation," said Santorum. "If faith in objective and eternal truths is no longer going to inform your conscience what moral code will? And where does that code come from? And what is the basis of its authority? Doesn't the public have a right to know? Yet Kennedy's followers never tell us.”

Santorum also pointed out that according to current standards, consciences that are not rooted in faith "can be permitted to freely apply their ideas in making laws and deciding cases." But, he continued, "On the other hand, consciences rooted in a belief in God are free to apply their ideas to personal matters; but if your beliefs, in the words of my former senate colleague Chuck Schumer, are 'deeply held beliefs' that impact your public positions - they must be excluded."

Santorum took as an example the infamous speech of former New York Governor Mario Cuomo at the University of Notre Dame in 1984. Cuomo had justified his support of abortion laws despite his Catholic faith by declaring that, while privately opposed to the killing of the unborn, he would not impose his belief on others, who may believe differently. "This political hand washing made it easier for Catholics to be in public life, but it also made it harder for Catholics to be Catholic in public life," said Santorum.

"Cuomo's safe harbor is nothing more than a camouflage for the faint of heart - a cynical sanctuary for concealing true convictions from the public, and for rationalizing a reluctance to defend them. Kennedy, Cuomo and their modern day disciples on the secular left would resolve any conflict between religion and politics by relegating faith to the closet."

While Kennedy's famous speech was intended to assuage fears that the pope would influence the Catholic president's administration, Santorum said that, by twisting the original meaning of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, Kennedy's words "sealed off informed moral wisdom into a realm of non rational beliefs that have no legitimate role in political discourse."

"On that day, Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear, he chose to expel faith," he said.

The notion that religion should not influence government was introduced relatively late in American political history; the original intention behind the so-called "separation of church and state," he explained, was to protect religion from the government, not the other way around. "Kennedy's misuse of the phrase constructed a high barrier that ultimately would keep religious convictions out of politics in a place where our founders had intended just the opposite," he said.

But ultimately, he said, the freedom of religion and conscience - which Kennedy's promises end up threatening, rather than aiding - "is the trunk from which all other branches of freedom on our great tree of liberty get their life. Cut down the trunk and the tree of liberty will die and in its place will be only the barren earth of tyranny."

Therefore, said the former senator, Americans should fight against the forces that antagonize people of faith, in order to preserve the virtue that is fed by faith and leads to true liberty. He quoted political philosopher Edmund Burke, who explained that "Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites ... Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without."

"Virtue requires faith because faith is the primary teacher of morality. That is not to say that one cannot be virtuous without faith, but for society as a whole faith is the indispensable agent of virtue," said Santorum. "Faith requires freedom."


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