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Did Santorum criticism of Catholic John Kennedy 1960 speech cost him in Michigan?

One of the speeches that helped popularize this “modern” idea that our founding fathers established somewhere in the Constitution, a “separation of Church and State” is the 1960 speech by Catholic candidate for President, John F. Kennedy.  Did Rick Santorum’s criticism of that speech – where he said it made him want to “throw up” after he read it (see HERE), lose him the Michigan primary vote yesterday?

While I do believe the battle is far from played out, the “slow but steady” approach of Mitt Romney paid off handsomely as he eked out a very narrow primary election win in his native state of Michigan yesterday.

Rick Santorum might have made a big mistake in how he criticized Catholic John Kennedy this past week, repeated endlessly by the media in the final days before the vote.  And the enormous advantage earned by his years-earlier head start in fundraising also paid off well once again for Mitt Romney in averting a campaign catastrophe for him in Michigan.

To keep this in context, Romney went from a huge 9 percentage point win four years ago in this same state against John McCain, to a narrow 3 percentage point win after spending many millions MORE in Michigan TV commercials to tear down underfunded newcomer Rick Santorum.  Instead of a massive victory it gave him a very narrow win.

But, in my view, the narrow Romney victory on his home turf was more the result of a few mistakes that Rick Santorum made in the final week and how the media focused attention on those mistakes endlessly.

I will address one of those mistakes because it involves the “faith and politics” issue which is my mission.

How could a Catholic candidate for office, lose the Catholic vote as (again) Rick Santorum did today, while campaigning against a Mormon?  First, it is a tribute to Catholics that they do not look just at the religion alone, of the candidates but also at what that person has done, what they propose and how they comport themselves.

And I do believe one of the major mistakes that Rick Santorum made this week was when he said he wanted to “throw up” when he read the John F. Kennedy speech about religion.  For the youngsters, the Catholic Kennedy, running for president, recognized that some people feared a Catholic President because of their perception that he would take orders from a Roman Pope.

Of course, they were not aware that it is only on matters of FAITH AND DOCTRINE that Catholics believe the Pope to be infallible.  Kennedy made a now famous speech to try to clear this up.   This is the speech that Santorum said almost made him throw up.  Here’s an excerpt of one such media report:

“Kennedy for the first time articulated the vision saying, no, faith is not allowed in the public square. I will keep it separate…I will have nothing to do with faith,” Santorum railed. “You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”  (see news report HERE).

I have to take exception to Santorum’s blanket statement.  Because I am a non-partisan in the sense that I do put my faith and my philosophy first ahead of any candidate I support.  I support Santorum for President, still do.  I do think this comment he made, was a mistake, and would prefer he had never made it.

First, Santorum made a mistake because it sounded like he is criticizing the entire Kennedy speech, which has in it much to commend.  Second, he surely should have known how his words would be taken out of context, ie. was it the ENTIRE speech and John F. Kennedy, who became the first Catholic President, who made him throw up?  Surely he should have known how his comment would have been used against him, made it sound to people who have a short attention span, that he hates the venerated (falsely I must add) President John F. Kennedy.

And, he should have been on his guard, he should have known better.  The person questioning him was the very partisan, former White House Communications Director for the 1992 campaign of Bill Clinton for President and then the same position at President Clinton’s White House.  He is a known liberal-Democrat partisan.  George Stephanopoulos scored a “gotcha” moment with this story.  Rick, how could you have said this, and especially, to this fellow?  But Stephanopoulos had done his homework and he “earned” this “gotcha,” I hate to admit.

Why was this a mistake for Santorum?

First, and foremost, there are PARTS of the speech, not the entirety of it, that might make a Christian conservative “throw up.”  Yet it sounded like Santorum meant the criticism for both the Catholic candidate and the ENTIRE speech.

For example, John F. Kennedy’s 1960 speech includes this passage – and how could any of us argue with this: “I believe in an America… where 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.”

In general, these are sentiments which most people would agree with, including most Catholics, including most conservatives.  But did the ENTIRE Kennedy speech – including this segment – make Rick Santorum want to “throw up”?

And who would want to argue with this sentiment expressed by Kennedy in 1960, ” I believe in an America… where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.”  Perhaps we should remember this as we hear Catholic priests like Father Samuel Samuel E. Houser at St. Patrick Catholic Church in York, call on his parishioners to object to the war against Catholics that aims to force them to provide abortion services against their own teachings, to register to vote, and to make their influence felt (see my earlier article).

Where I can take exception to Kennedy in this speech is when he said “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 take exception.  Why should your faith be hidden away?  Why can you not be a Christian openly in America?

I take exception where Kennedy says ” I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…”  There are of course, absolutes.  But this doctrine is not part of the Constitution.  The first amendment does not prevent one from speaking aloud about one’s faith, merely because you are a candidate for office or because you hold public office.  One does not lose free speech merely because as a Christian, you run for public office.

And one can serve as a good example in public life – what in our teaching is called “know Christians by their works.”  Yes of course we all sin – we are human.  But we are forgiven through the birth and death of Christ.  We can start over, we can always live a virtuous life and speak of our faith to help others.  Why must we be silent about this, as John F. Kennedy demands?

A Pastor or Rabbi does not have to refrain from criticizing abortion from the pulpit because John F. Kennedy made a speech declaring this “separation of church and state” and because he announced it is “absolute”.  Both the former and the latter are false.  The idea that so many worship at this false shrine, does in fact, make me want to “throw up.”

I take exception where Kennedy says ” where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials.”  Why?  Because the government forcing my Church to conduct abortions, to pay for what the government considers a sickness (pregnancy) and for its prevention (infanticide), means we cannot resist as a faith community, if you believe Kennedy.  It means our freedom of speech is silenced because John F. Kennedy and today’s liberals should not allow our Priests, Bishops and Church, to “impose” but we must instead acquiesce.

And most of all, I take exception where John F. Kennedy said, ” I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office.”

That would mean we cannot see if our candidates for public office use a moral compass to determine their views on specific issues, not if that compass is set by their faith and belief in Jesus Christ, for example.   Sshhh… it is “don’t ask, don’t tell” for Christians.

Yes, when you look closely, there are indeed, parts of that Kennedy speech that, on reflection, may make you unhappy – perhaps even make you “throw up.”  The mistake is not agreeing with me and Rick Santorum.

The mistake is not realizing how easy it would be for your remarks to be construed as attacking the ENTIRE speech and in fact, the first successful Catholic candidate for President. (text of entire 1960 speech of John F. Kennedy HERE).

In the same week he made his comment to ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, news reports cited him explaining “how Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have bullied pious Americans into removing themselves from political discourse.”

Santorum said that the First Amendment that protects us from having the federal government interfere with our religion as been turned upside down, reversed, ” “And now it’s the church,” he continued, “people of faith, who have no right to come to the public square and express their points of view, or practice their faith outside of their church.”

Santorum said he “almost threw up” after reading the Kennedy speech of 1960 because he thought it said “faith is not allowed in the public square” and “I will have nothing to do with faith.”  He then reiterated to Stephanoupolis “you bet that makes you throw up.  What kind of country do we live that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?”

Yes.  I know what he was trying to say.  With what he INTENDED to say I completely agree.

If in order to be a candidate for public office in America you have to be completely silent about your faith in Jesus Christ, never speak of it, never refer to it, never talk about it, never write it, then yes indeed, it is in fact, TIME TO THROW UP.

I have met candidates who have actually spoken before a conservative Christian group in Pennsylvania and who didn’t say a word about their faith and how it shapes their beliefs.  I have spoken to one such after, his speech, asking him about this.  He said he keeps his faith separate from his campaign.  Exactly as Santorum said, “MAKES ME THROW UP.”

This candidate – not willing to speak publicly about his faith – is appealing to conservative Christians to vote for him.  Why should we?  Incredibly, this “silent” candidate’s otherwise fine presentation, was made at a “candidate’s forum” of “Americans for Christian Traditions in our Nation” (ACTION of PA) in York County, a very “red state” part of south central Pennsylvania.  There was no indication of this candidate’s beliefs, what should be the most important thing in the world to him.

Why is it FORBIDDEN to speak of your faith in the “public square”?  This is now forbidden?  This is what Kennedy meant?  This is in fact, what Rick Santorum was criticizing.

So our faith is now banned from political discourse?

That is what Rick Santorum meant to say – how our faith guides us in seeking office should not be banned from the “public square” and it makes me SICK to think that is what “separation of Church and State” means to some people.  It is in fact, sickening how John F. Kennedy felt we should not be allowed to speak of our faith in the public square, not be allowed to ask candidates about this, as he clearly states.

It is not about debating your religion as part of politics.  It is not about having a “religion litmus test” for candidates.  It is about asking, WHAT animates a candidate more than anything else?

Rick Santorum’s point – the one he MEANT to say – is well taken, and I completely agree with him.

But saying “throw up” regarding a Catholic candidate for President, admired by many Christians, was bound to be taken out of context and criticized.  It was.  I believe it lost him several percentage points in Michigan, and allowed Mitt Romney to have a clean sweep yesterday (Michigan and Arizona) by his simply being silent about faith while Santorum “made the mistake” of speaking of his faith in Jesus Christ, and how this guides him.

Faith is important, indeed critical.  What animates someone to the core of his belief, what is his “moral compass” is a critical question.   Why does it now have to be hidden, kept secret?  Why this animus towards Christians?

Another Mormon – Glenn Beck – speaks of faith CONSTANTLY in a way that unites Christians and Jews and Mormons.  He edifies my Pope on his program.  He has David Barton of  Wallbuilders on his show to explain how we have our freedom in this country because of the Christian faith of the founders.  He speaks in a way that shows what motivates him and what unites him with his fans, which includes the undersigned.

So there is no question that the point Santorum – and this writer – agree on is NOT which religion you are, but HOW does this animate and motivate you and shape your beliefs as a candidate?  And most critically, WHY do Christians have to be silent on this topic?

I would not rule out voting for any candidate of a different faith tradition than my own.  I would, if I knew that person believes that their faith has no relevance to their decisions as a public official in the United States and if they believe that this most critical question is BARRED from public discourse.  THAT is what makes Rick Santorum “throw up.”

Should a candidate for public office be willing and capable to speak in defense of their faith?  Should a candidate be able to explain why, based upon their faith, they believe it is immoral and wrong to force a Catholic Hospital to perform abortions and to carry insurance for abortion “morning after” pills for all their employees, to name one recent example?

Should a candidate be able to explain that based upon his strongest beliefs in a personal Savior for each and every one of us and based upon the teachings of his Church and his understanding of Sacred Scripture, he knows that we are all God’s creations and should be treated with respect and care?

Does it mean that they were terribly mistaken, those whose belief in God and Jesus Christ and their understanding of the teachings of their Church made slavery abhorrent to them, and led to the civil war – which in turn led to the ending of slavery in the United States and the preservation of our union?

Do those who say this “separation” of faith from government is “absolute” understand how the religious faith – that blacks were human beings with a soul no different than whites – led to the firm stand by so many to abolish that “peculiar institution” and the election of the first Republican candidate for President, Abraham Lincoln?

Rick Santorum and the other candidates for the GOP nomination for President speak of freedom.  Banning faith from the discussion means the critical “WHY do you believe that” question, is barred from public discourse.  It was a mistake the way he said it.  It was a mistake for him not to have realized that what he said would be so twisted out of context.  But in the end: I’m with Rick Santorum – barring such discourse from the public square MAKES ME THROW UP too.

We should not bar Christians from discussing their faith in public, simply because they are a candidate for office.  We should instead, encourage it.   We should not banish from the room, those who would question candidates about their faith and how it guides them.

A candidates faith is relevant – indeed critical – to how he would govern.  We have every right to ask.  A candidate doesn’t have to tell.  But we should not be barred from asking, nor from seeking to defeat those who won’t answer.  Don’t ask, don’t tell, should not be applied to Christians in the public square.  Do ask.  And don’t vote for them, if they won’t tell.

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