Keep Church and State Separate
When I was a child, I believed in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and even the Tooth Fairy, but the thing I was taught to believe in most of all was the significance of the Constitution. My parents, who are both attorneys, filled my head with the knowledge of the Bill of Rights as I colored on the back of their law briefs. I learned of my rights to a speedy and public trial and against unfair searches and seizures, but the amendment that I came to value most was the First Amendment. A mere 45 words long, it guarantees citizens many liberties, among them the freedom of religion. It also dictates the separation of church and state. It is this aspect of the amendment that Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum recently criticized, saying that he didn’t believe in an absolute separation of church and state, and that the idea makes him “want to throw up.” While Santorum has a right under the same amendment to express his opinions, we should not support a presidential candidate who opposes and misunderstands basic tenets of our country’s Constitution.
The separation of church and state prohibits the government from establishing an official religion, from undertaking actions that favor one religion over another, and also from favoring non-religion over religion and vice versa. These prohibitions have allowed religious freedom to flourish in America. They do not prohibit private individuals from expressing their religious views in public or political life; rather, they stop the federal government from preferring one set of religious views to another.
Santorum seems to fundamentally misunderstand the meaning of the amendment. Santorum’s criticism occurred when he commented on John F. Kennedy’s 1960 address to Baptist leaders, in which he highlighted his belief in the separation of church and state in order to repudiate the idea that, as a Catholic president, he would take orders from the Catholic Church. While Santorum did note in his remarks that the First Amendment guarantees the free exercise of religion, he also asserted that, according to John F. Kennedy, under the separation of church and state, “only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case.” This is simply not true. In fact, the separation of church and state ensures that people of all faiths may express their views in the political sphere by preventing the government from favoring any one religion.
In addition to demonstrating his ignorance, Santorum commented that he does not “believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” He continued by declaring, “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.” What Santorum is truly saying is that he dislikes the fact that his church cannot be involved in the running of the state. But how would Mr. Santorum feel if a church that he did not believe in was given preferential treatment by the government? The authority of the separation of church and state promotes the religious diversity found in America. It prevents religious persecution and stops the government from forcing faith on its citizens. It is not a Congressional bill, newly formulated and up for debate. Although its application can be interpreted, its existence cannot be challenged. It is a part of our constitution reinforced by years of legal precedent. If Santorum does not believe in it, maybe he is running for president of the wrong country.