In 1960 I was 11 years old and a fan of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.....had both players Topps baseball cards...still do. In 1960, John Kennedy was about to be elected president. Kennedy became America's first president who happened to also be a Catholic. Biased Protestant voters of the period had to be reassured that JFK would not simply be a puppet of the Vatican, as Protestant critics suggested he would be if elected.
Kennedy spoke in Houston on Sept. 12, 1960. Here is part of what he said.....
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute--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.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish--where no public official either requests or accepts 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--and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
It's worth reading twice, especially in light of the surrealistic "debate" currently going on over Bishops, and contraceptives and whether faith trumps secular laws and power.
Can you imagine a 21st century American nation where "no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preferences?" Neither can 21st century U.S. Bishops.
Can you imagine a 21st century Republican Party which embraces the separation of church and state as an "absolute?" Me neither.
Kennedy's vision of America imagined a nation "where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace?" Like Catholic Bishops seeking to impose religious rules concerning contraception upon the general populace.
Of course, JFK was a Democrat....and, I suppose, it could be said that he was preparing the way for future godless, Kenyan-born, religion-hating Democratic presidents who would work to extinguish "religious liberty" altogether at the opening of the 21st century.
You know....or not.
Anyway....that's what JFK had to say about church/state relations. But what about this guy....
Notwithstanding the general progress made within the two last centuries in favour of this branch of liberty, & the full establishment of it, in some parts of our Country, there remains in others a strong bias towards the old error, that without some sort of alliance or coalition between Government & Religion neither can be duly supported. Such indeed is the tendency to such a coalition, and such its corrupting influence on both the parties, that the danger cannot be too carefully guarded agst. And in a Government of opinion, like ours, the only effectual guard must be found in the soundness and stability of the general opinion on the subject. Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.
James Madison....."the Father of the Constitution." What would he know, right?
Or how about this guy....
...I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.
Thomas Jefferson....reflecting on the 1st amendment.
Consider this: Jefferson would be treated today as if he were worse than an infidel. Jefferson wrote his own version of the New Testament Bible, removing all claims of miraculous events, religious dogma and even the book of Revelation in it's entirety. Jefferson did not believe in the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth....and would therefore be regarded by today's extremist evangelical Christians as more of an unacceptable candidate than Mormon Mitt.
The opinions of James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and John Kennedy. American leaders who played second political fiddle to no one when it came to church/state philosophy.
And then we have the frontrunner in the 2012 GOP presidential primary race....Rick Santorum.
"Let's make no mistake about it," Santorum declared, "Kennedy was addressing a real issue at the time. Prejudice against Catholics threatened to cost him the election."
"But on that day," Santorum continued, "Kennedy chose not just to dispel fear; he chose to expel faith. Let me quote from the beginning of Kennedy's speech: 'I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.'"
"The idea of strict or absolute separation of church and state," Santorum concluded, "is not and never was the American model."
Santorum, who lost his senatorial re-election bid to Democrat Bob Casey by 18% in 2006, went on to suggest that Jefferson's words to the Danbury Baptists about a "wall of separation between Church and State" has no relevancy because....
"The phrase 'wall of separation,'" Santorum stated, "comes from a letter written by a founder who didn't even attend the constitutional convention, Thomas Jefferson."
Such is the 'make it up as Rick goes' version of history by America's first serious theocratic presidential contender. JFK assured Americans he would not govern as a theocrat....promising to honor America's long history of keeping church and state absolutely separate. Rick Santorum assures Americans that he will, as president, disregard any notions of church and state being separate.
P.S. It is a smear and a disservice to the legacy of men like Kennedy, Madison and Jefferson for me to even bring up Rick Santorum in the same blog post with these highly influential and revered presidents....and so I apologize for doing so.
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