14 Sep 2014
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False Gods and Politics: A Letter to Rick Santorum

Columnist Heather Borden Herve says the GOP presidential candidate is crossing a dangerous political line, threatening a core American belief.

False Gods and Politics: A Letter to Rick Santorum False Gods and Politics: A Letter to Rick Santorum

Dear Mr. Santorum,

While I respect your right to hold your personal religious beliefs to the high standard you have set for yourself, I respectfully request that you refrain from using them to try to change our current laws or to campaign on a platform promising that you will govern using religious tenets.

Because I don’t think any one faith should be used as a tool to tell anyone else how they must live. And I believe that our democracy was created on the foundation that religion and government should be separate.

Respectfully yours,

Heather Borden Herve

Former Senator Rick Santorum, running for the nomination as GOP presidential candidate, makes me very afraid. Recent statements he has made indicate his desire to impose his religious beliefs on our legal and governmental systems, should he be elected. That ideology is a very dangerous one.

I take no issue with people who choose to observe and practice their own faiths. In fact, I’m a member of a congregation and I’m teaching children my family’s faith. I just don’t want to be told that Santorum’s religious faith—or anyone else’s—has to be something that impacts how I live my life and the choices I can make. I object to politicians using religion to restrict my own health care choices or the way I choose to educate my children, as well as the potential for it be used to dictate something far worse—as the basis for fighting a war against another country.

This past Sunday, Santorum answered questions on the Sunday morning political talk show circuit regarding his beliefs on the church and state relationship. He told George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s “This Week”: "I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute. 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 ... to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up."

Santorum was responding to Stephanopoulos’ question about earlier remarks he’d made, saying a 1960 speech given by President John Kennedy made him “want to throw up.” In that address, Kennedy was reaffirming his own commitment to keeping church and state separate—because the country was concerned JFK’s catholic faith would lead him to take direction from the Vatican and the Pope. My, my—how did we turn 180 degrees in just 50 years?

The same morning, Santorum said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that separation of church and state was "not the founders' vision."

Um, actually, it was their vision.

Religious freedom has been a fundamental tenet of our democracy from moment one, as an article of the Constitution and as part of the First Amendment. There’s also a local connection that shows it was part of the belief system of at least one founder—Thomas Jefferson penned the phrase “separation of church and state” in a letter he wrote to the Danbury Baptists in response to their concerns over the lack of protected religious freedoms in Connecticut, just after the turn of the 19th century.

In his words, Jefferson stated: "... 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 & State."

There are similar quotations from James Madison, widely regarded as the father of the Constitution, reaffirming his belief in the separation of church and state. Similarly, in a speech Ronald Reagan delivered in 1984, he defended the need for government’s neutrality toward all religions, and not putting one faith ahead of another:

“We in the United States, above all, must remember that lesson, for we were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain, separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not, and those who believe are free, and should be free, to speak of and act on their belief.” [emphasis mine]

Politicians who use religious justification to prevent women from accessing contraceptive choices are hypocritical. They are most often conservatives who also advocate smaller government with reduced oversight over personal action. But that’s exactly what restricting access to healthcare is—government’s over-involvement in personal matters.

It’s also thinly-cloaked code with just as much basis in political motivation, in an effort to garner more votes with conservative, evangelical voters—many of whom will likely turn out to vote during next week’s Super Tuesday primary.

The religious rhetoric is just as powerful when it’s used to criticize President Obama. Santorum called the President’s religious beliefs a “phony theology” and said Obama’s policies are “not based on the Bible.” Santorum later criticized the President’s apology after US soldiers in Afghanistan recently burned copies of the Quran burnings. This is not only disrespectful to those who follow the Islamic faith, but also seems to be a wink and a nod to some voters who believe that the President is hiding his “true” Muslim faith.

Guarding the principal of separation of church and state should be priority for all politicians, especially those running for the nation’s highest office. For it protects our basic freedom:  the government can’t tell you how to worship and what to believe. It’s just as important to protect the reverse:  that no church or religious belief should dictate the way our country—the country of all of us­­—is governed. To do anything less sacrifices the foundation of our most precious democratic foundation.

Editor's note: This article originally was published at 5:59 a.m. The time stamp has been changed for layout purposes on the Home page Darien Patch.

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