Posted at 04:27 PM ET, 02/18/2012

Santorum stands by statement that Obama’s theology not based on the Bible

COLUMBUS, Ohio — At a news conference after an address to a conservative Christian group here, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum stood by his comments earlier in the day that President Obama supports “a phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible,” and fired back at the Obama campaign for calling the statement “just the latest low” in a negative GOP primary campaign.

Speaking to reporters after addressing a luncheon of the Ohio Christian Alliance, Santorum said that the “new low” in the campaign is represented not by his remarks about Obama’s beliefs, but by the Obama administration’s handling of the recent controversy over whether the national health care law’s mandated coverage of contraception applies to religious-affiliated institutions.


GOP presidential candidate and former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum campaigning in Detroit on Thursday. (Paul Sancya - AP)
“It is a new low,” he told reporters. “The president has reached a new low in this country’s history of oppressing religious freedom that we have never seen before. And if he doesn’t want to call his imposition of his values a theology, that’s fine. But it is an imposition of his values over a church who has very clear theological reasons for opposing what the Obama administration is forcing on them.”

Asked whether he believes Obama is “less of a Christian” because of his position on the issue, Santorum responded, “No one’s suggesting that.”

“I’m suggesting — well, obviously, as we all know in the Christian church, there are a lot of different stripes of Christianity,” he said. “I’m just saying he’s imposing his values on the church, and I think that’s wrong. . . . If the president says he’s a Christian, he’s a Christian.”

Santorum also stood by his remarks in a June 2011 interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that doctors who perform abortions should be prosecuted if the procedure were to become illegal. While the interview itself took place eight months ago, video of the exchange was republished online by BuzzFeed Saturday afternoon.

“Yes,” Santorum said when asked about his position on the issue. “Just so you know — if it’s against the law, yes, they should be criminally prosecuted, because it’s against the law. And the country would have made a decision that it’s against the law. And I would suggest that if we make it against the law, that there should be penalties. Otherwise, if it’s a law where there is no enforcement of the law, it’s not really much of a law, is it?”

Santorum’s defense of his remarks comes as polls show his campaign surging in Ohio and several other key states.

A Quinnipiac poll on Wednesday showed Santorum taking 36 percent in Ohio to former Massachusetts governor Romney’s 29 percent, with former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) in third place with 20 percent and Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) in last with 9 percent.

A prime reason for Santorum’s strong position in Ohio is his support among conservative Christians. He takes 41 percent among evangelical Christians in the Quinnipiac Poll, compared with 26 percent for Romney and 21 percent for Gingrich.

Figures for evangelical turnout in the Ohio 2008 primary aren’t available, but 51 percent of those who cast a ballot in the GOP race four years ago said they attended church at least once a week.

Santorum was introduced by several Ohio officials, including Mike DeWine, the state attorney general and former senator who on Friday flipped his support from Romney to Santorum — a decision he made after “literally sleepless nights,” he told the crowd Saturday.

In explaining his move, DeWine drew a comparison Saturday between Santorum and Romney when it comes to what government should do for the poor.

“Governor Romney apparently looks at those individuals, the poor in our society, and thinks we need to take of them,” DeWine said. “Rick Santorum thinks we need to strip away the bonds of dependency and give them opportunity. . . . With Rick Santorum, the more you listen, the more you like.”

Santorum’s stop at the Ohio Christian Alliance luncheon came hours after he addressed a raucous crowd of some 350 tea party supporters at a hotel near the Columbus airport. At that event, Santorum had called into question Obama’s religious beliefs, accusing the president of believing in a “phony” theology — “not a theology based on the Bible.”

Earlier Saturday, Santorum had also fired back at Romney on the issue of congressional earmarking, noting that the former governor had sought federal funding for the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.

Romney’s camp responded by pointing out that Santorum had voted in favor of many of the same earmarks he criticized Romney for seeking.

The Columbus event is Santorum’s second of a Saturday swing through the Buckeye State. Later tonight, he heads to the campus of the University of Akron to address the Summit County Lincoln Day Dinner, and on Sunday, he’s expected to head south to Newt Gingrich’s home state of Georgia.

By  |  04:27 PM ET, 02/18/2012

 
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