Rick Santorum reported recently that he read Kennedy’s speech and “almost threw up.” Santorum quoted the presidential candidate saying, “I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” Santorum claimed that the future president was promising to manage the affairs of state without allowing religion to influence his decisions.
When I heard Santorum’s remarks, I concluded that he wasn’t aware of the context of the document and had misinterpreted Kennedy’s words. Santorum could be forgiven for not understanding what candidate Kennedy meant, since Santorum was only 2 years old in 1960.
I was a sophomore in high school at the time and lived in a Protestant Republican household. My recollection of the “Catholic Issue” among Protestants was that it had nothing to do with religious doctrine. It was accepted, even then, that all Christian denominations shared a common set of core values. The issue was whether a Catholic president could be completely independent from the Vatican and the hierarchy of the Catholic Church. This is what the word “church” quoted above meant. Fifty years later, the doubts seem exaggerated and quaint.
It is, after all, no more possible to remove the influence of Christian thought from American law, the U.S. Constitution, and the presidency than it would be to remove oregano from a jar of spaghetti sauce. Why would any citizen (or cook) even attempt to do so?
I thought that Rick Santorum merely misunderstood the reference to “church” in the term “church and state,” concluding that it was a synonym for “religion” rather than a reference to the hierarchy and organization of the Catholic Church. I was wrong.
I recently read the 1960 speech. It turns out that Rick Santorum was not confused. He purposefully misquoted the document, misconstrued its meaning, and misrepresented what was said. This is a serious charge. You be the judge.
Mr. Santorum quoted John F. Kennedy out of context. Here’s what the speech said when you include the entire passage.
Kennedy says: “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.”
It’s clear to anyone, including Santorum, that the word “church” here refers to the church as an organization, and not a set of values.
Kennedy continues: “ I believe in an America ... where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope.” He adds, “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.”
There is nothing here to confuse.
Rick Santorum said that he felt sick after reading the above because he felt the future president intended to purge religious thought and spirituality from the Oval Office.
In fact, Kennedy only addresses his actual religious beliefs once in the speech. He says, “But if the time should ever come ... when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office, and I hope that any conscientious public servant would do the same.”
Kennedy clearly says that his conscience comes first.
It seems to me that if Rick Santorum wants to wax self-righteous and indignant about a 50-year-old document, he at least ought to be faithful and accurate in his depiction of what it said.
• Mickey McGuire, a retired high school social studies teacher, is among a select group of local residents with columns in the Tracy Press.