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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 2, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 09
JFK makes me want to puke, Santorum says
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JFK makes me want to puke, Santorum says

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Listening to John F. Kennedy's famous speech on the separation of church and state makes him want to 'throw up,' Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum told ABC-TV host George Stephanopoulos on February 26.

'It makes you throw up?' an incredulous Stephanopoulos asked.

'To say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes you throw up. What kind of country do we live in that says only people of non-faith can come into the public square and make their case?' Santorum answered.

Kennedy made the speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, a group of evangelical clergymen, in 1960, shortly after winning the Democratic nomination for the presidency.

At the time, many Protestants believed that Kennedy, as a Catholic, would take his marching orders from his church. Dispelling that suspicion was crucial to winning the presidency.

'Because I am a Catholic,' Kennedy told the ministers, 'and no Catholic has ever been elected president, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured - perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So 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 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.'

Any other arrangement would lead to religious harassment and infighting among different denominations, he warned.

'Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you - until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril,' he said.

'I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me.'

It was one of Kennedy's most effective campaign speeches and it set the tone for church-state relations in the 50 years since.

Like Kennedy, Santorum is a Catholic, but one much more in the old-school Pius XII tradition, while Kennedy was linked with the reforming John XXIII.

Santorum has made opposition to contraception one of the keynote issues of his campaign, for example. He is also an outspoken enemy of LGBT rights.

While many Catholics send their children to parochial schools so they can take classes in church history and dogma, Santorum took a much more extreme position and home-schooled his. He said recently that a college education was a vehicle for secularization.

'I don't believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute,' Santorum told Stephanopoulos. '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.'

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