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Right Turn
Posted at 05:20 PM ET, 02/28/2012

Why does Santorum object to JFK’s speech?

Rick Santorum agreed today that he should not be using a phrase like “throw up” in connection with John F. Kennedy. But there has been no recognition that he distorted the meaning of Kennedy’s speech, even adding a present-day catchphrase that angers Christian conservatives — religion should be kept out of the public square — and that Kennedy did not use. Presumably, Santorum still thinks there is something wrong with the 1960 address to the Protestant ministers.

There are two possibilities. The first is that Santorum didn’t understand or fully read the speech. It seems hard to comprehend that he would object to the idea that “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.”

Maybe Santorum didn’t know that Kennedy never called for religious figures or people with religious ideals to be banished from public discussion. In other words, Santorum may have been popping off about something about which he was uninformed.

The other possibility is that Santorum has a radically different idea of the First Amendment than the one under which every preceding president has operated. Maybe he really does want to see churches or church schools granted “public funds,” as Kennedy said. Or perhaps, he does want churches (currently at risk of losing their tax-exempt status) advocating for and against candidates. Maybe he doesn’t agree with JFK’s admonition in that speech that he believed “in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accept 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.” (Emphasis added.)

Santorum twists those highlighted phrases, suggesting that Kennedy meant that a president should never consult with religious leaders. But if Santorum objects to those literal words and intends to ask the Church “what is the position on X” and then implement the Church’s position on X because it is the Church’s position, then that really is something altogether new and quite extraordinary.

Santorum opened this can of worms, and it’s an important enough topic for him to explain what he means. Either in written form or in a speech, he owes the voters an explanation. He should welcome the opportunity to dispel confusion, and we should hear him out. But we should not treat his retreat on the unfortunate and decidedly unpresidential “throw up” language as dispositive.

By  |  05:20 PM ET, 02/28/2012

Categories:  2012 campaign

 
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