By now you’ve no doubt heard about Republican presidential contender Rick “Frothy Mix” Santorum’s avowal that JFK’s 1960 speech to the Houston Ministerial Association makes him want to “throw up.” I am a former resident of Pennsylvania and I have a particular hatred for the Frothy Mix. When I was in high school, he was promoting legislation that would have drained money from public schools for private, home, and charter schooling, and he very prominently decried public schools as “unnatural” environments for kids - seriously, he was and is a fanatic. I’m still mad that the best I could do in my very first election was vote him out and Bob Casey in, and Casey is not too far below him on my shit list. (He was one of the three Democrats to vote against tabling the Blunt Amendment.)
Anyway, I think it’s worth taking a look at the actual content of the speech. Nowhere, as Santorum claimed, does President Kennedy claim “people of faith have no role in the public square.” Kennedy’s speech is about how he, as a Catholic, will not impose Catholic values upon a pluralist nation, just as he would hope that people of other faiths would not impose their values upon him. Skip ahead to about 1:20 for one of my favorite lines from this speech. (Emphasis mine)
… It is apparently necessary for me to state once again, not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me, but what kind of America I believe in: I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute; where no Catholic zealot would tell the President, should he be Catholic, how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote … and where no man is denied public office mainly because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
That’s the rub, right there. We live in a country with people of many faiths, a country that began as a haven for people of many faiths who were persecuted elsewhere. We have to find a way to get along here, and that means creating public policy that respects each citizen’s right to practice their own religion. Jon Stewart nailed it with “How do you hear ‘all faiths are welcome’ as ‘no faiths are welcome?’”
Rick Santorum seems to be a big fan of imposing his faith on others, so maybe what upset him is the line about how JFK believes in an America “where no religious body seeks to impose its will, directly or indirectly, upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.” Notice that phrasing - general populace. A religious body is welcome to impose its will upon its members, just not everyone. That this idea would be repulsive to Santorum is both frightening and real.
Then Kennedy continues to say that he believes in an America where “religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.” Boy, that has to really churn up some agita for the ol’ Frothy Mix. I mean, after all, what’s this preposterous notion that the Constitution protects all religious institutions equally within the scope of the law? Oh, yeah, that whole Bill of Rights thing, whereby “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.”
Since Santorum’s moment of foaming at the mouth, he has since apologized… kind of. He said that he wishes he “had that particular line back,” because he’s sorry that he mentioned throwing up in an interview. He’s not sorry that he’s openly anti-secular. He hasn’t reread the speech transcript, looked at the context, or skimmed his copy of the US Constitution and Bill of Rights - at best, I think he watched this Schoolhouse Rock video about the Preamble, which is why two days after his upchuck comment he was claiming that both men and women signed the Declaration of Independence. He still believes in an America where, when one religious faction gains power, they have the right to impose their particular beliefs on everyone else. That belief should be scary in someone running for dog catcher - but it should be terrifying in a legitimate contender for a major party’s presidential nomination.